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Water everywhere...but not a drop to spare

Ewin
James

Thursday, June 13, 2019

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In the 70s, when I was a boy in Porus, Manchester, we, the residents, were always without a reliable supply of water in our taps at home. So, the children were always going to the public standpipes. When we got water from our faucets at home — those of us who had faucets — it came only for a few hours a day, at most, whenever it came.

The man who was in charge of giving us water would take a big wrench or some tool to the reservoir and turn on the water. People were always looking out for the “Pipe Man” so we could get water before he turned off the tap or the reservoir ran dry.

Yet, Porus and surrounding districts had more than enough water to supply everyone. One evening when I was coming from primary school a boy told me that there was a well at the front of the Porus Market with a lot of water. I didn't believe him until he removed a cover over a hole and we peered down into what seemed a deep well at the bottom of which was water.

My mother and the older people always said that Porus and its environs sat on top of seven rivers. Later I came to understand what they meant — there was much water underground. They were right.

In a study of Porus, called A Porus Development Area Profile, posted online in 2011, it was noted that: A Porus resident recalling the 1930s floods spoke of “seven rivers underground between Trinity and Porus”. The study went on to note floods caused by these rivers, “and that residents used to understand that the springs and rivers below the town of Porus are numerous and widespread”.

Nearly 20 years ago, groundwater erupted at Melrose Hill, flooding parts of Trinity just outside Porus. And in 2002, water broke out in Harmons, a few miles away, and caused extensive flooding.

There is more water.

Going up to Spring Grove, a district across the disused train line, there is a spring we used to swim in that we called Breadfruit Hole. It feeds the Scott's Pass River, which runs into St Jago, below Toll Gate, and into the Milk River. And above Whitney Turn, less than two miles from the centre of Porus, there is a pond we called Green Pond, said to be 14 acres big. It is fed by a spring from higher up in Clarendon. Yet for as long as anyone can remember, a few thousand people can't be assured of a regular supply of water in their taps or containers.

Jamaica, the land of wood and water, has residents who have difficulty getting water for their basic needs.

Why?

It isn't a lack of availability of the natural resource. Part of the reason is that successive governments have not taken the need to provide water seriously and so work to create the infrastructure to ensure a reliable supply of water.

Charles Buchanan, the corporate public affairs manager at National Water Commission (NWC), was reported on Tuesday, June 4, in the Jamaica Observer, saying: “In the Corporate Area, we had highlighted that there were several different things affecting people's ability to receive water, including the fact that the 18-inch pipeline at Ferry in St Andrew has been broken and was out of service.”

Imagine that, Kingston is a world-class city with over a million people, yet people can't receive water because the Government is tardy in repairing or replacing a broken water main. In many places in the world where governments respect their tax-paying citizens, there would be no public comment about a broken water main. It would have been repaired before it became the news.

In the same article, the Observer said that the “NWC said that the shortage in water supply is a result of drought affecting sections of the island, forcing the agency to employ stricter conservation measures.” What drought? The annual dry period before the rainy season in the region? We have this all across the Caribbean, and in Florida where I live. And yet, the only time we, in Florida, fail to have water is when we do not pay our bills?

What is called drought in Jamaica is simply the months in which we do not have rain. But the Government calls it a drought because it has to blame something for its unwillingness and inability to provide water. Plus, it won't put the blame where it belongs — on itself. The Government of Jamaica is uncaring or incompetent.

I also saw a story in the Observer entitled 'Water Hope'. It is about some entity, prospecting for gold in Jamaica, whose satellite images have revealed “large bodies” of water underground which “could solve the annual drought problem which plagues the island”.

If for years the Government has been unable to solve the so-called annual drought problem with all the underground water that Jamaica has, how is it going to solve it now because some entity searching for gold has seen large bodies of underground water? Is that company going to extract the water and provide it to Jamaicans?

There are other countries in the region which have no source, or have little natural water, but whose governments, at great expense, provide their populations and tourists with water without interruption. Curacao, a Dutch territory, doesn't have the sources of natural water that Jamaica has to supply its population of over 160,000 and the many tourists that come everyday. Yet there is no water shortage, because, at considerable expense, Curacao extracts water from the sea and employs a process called desalination. We do not have to go to that expense for every Jamaican to have water for we have enough fresh water waiting.

If Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Government want to be in power in perpetuity, one of the few things they need to do, in addition to containing crime, which they are failing to do, is ensure that every Jamaican is supplied with the water he or she needs.

Ewin James is a freelance writer living in Florida, USA. Send comments to the Observer or eroyjames@aol.com.


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