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Drought conditions could worsen, Vaz warns

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

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JAMAICANS are being warned that drought conditions could worsen in some areas, especially the eastern parish of Portland, if the forecast by the Meteorological Service for July to September remains on track.

National Water Commission (NWC) customers are also being alerted to expect water restrictions to be announced, as the NWC has indicated that storage levels at the Hermitage Dam have been falling gradually over the past few months.

“Although the NWC has not yet instituted strict measures to curtail usage, this will inevitably be required if the forecast for below-normal rainfall holds true through the summer months,” minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Daryl Vaz told the House of Representatives yesterday.

The Government last week said that it will be allocating an initial $30 million to the relevant municipal corporations to assist with trucking water in the parishes of Portland, St Catherine, St Elizabeth, Clarendon, and sections of St Mary, which have been experiencing unusually dry conditions.

Vaz, in a statement on the drought affecting the island, indicated yesterday that the Government is considering forming a national drought committee to focus on strategies that may need to be employed should the island experience a more widespread drought situation.

He said it is important that adequate preparation is made to deal with the forecast for a high chance of warmer than normal temperature with below-normal rainfall, “as it is likely that Jamaica could see extremes in the weather for some time. We should also all educate ourselves on the best response and best practices to climate change-related issues.”

He said the risk, therefore, for other parishes experiencing drought conditions is high, going into the midsummer dry period.

“The SPI (Standard Precipitation Index) also forecasts severe drying particularly for Portland, St Catherine and Clarendon during the July to September period,” he noted.

Minister Vaz explained that despite periods of heavy rainfall and flooding for several months last year, February this year saw the beginning of the trend of below-average rainfall, which continued through to the secondary rainfall season which started in May. Reports for that period indicated that Portland and St Elizabeth again received less rainfall than their long-term averages.

He said the trucking schedule, which has been developed for Portland for July to September, will cost approximately $10 million.

At a post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House last week, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said the $30-million disbursement to assist with trucking water is “just the first of what the Government will be providing if the situation doesn't improve over the next coming weeks… The Government is prepared to spend whatever we can to ensure that adequate water is provided not just of residential use.”

He said that the Government is committed to spending another $50 million to fund a mitigation clean-up programme in critical areas which are prone to flooding.

In the meantime, Vaz noted that the data for June is still being analysed, but preliminary results suggest that the dry trend has been maintained for most of the country, and the forecast for the next few months is therefore of some concern. He further said that despite the outlook for usually wet parishes, such as St Mary and Portland, to experience conditions ranging from abnormally dry to moderately dry, the situation is expected to change over the ensuing months and, based on analysis of the precipitation outlook by the Meteorological Service, most sections of the island are expected to experience below-normal rainfall through to September.

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