Columns

We want water justice!

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, July 12, 2019

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When the radio host said the National Water Commission (NWC) should lock up those who watered gardens during the drought I was amused, but angry. Why? There are avid gardeners whose sturdy trees, lush lawns, and florescent shrubbery attract rain, birds and insects vital to production, as well as lift spirits. One gardener insists her plants will not die just because NWC fails in its duty.

We should have no annual water crisis, as supply is not our problem, but our blessings make NWC complacent. I helped craft the byline “Water is Life”, and the NWC needs a good kicking, as it dishonours its own motto.

The NWC should create a robust annual plan for customers, as drought is the not-so-new normal. No cussing or hot chat, just involve the municipality, civil society, and work the plan. Drought stresses all of us; it compromises people, plants, animals and the knock-on effect is massive and people die.

The feisty dog is tamed by thirst; the cacophony when the bird's bath is empty; the lizards scurry in the grass chasing a drop of the scarce liquid, and the hummingbirds rally to a plume of water from a broken hose. My neighbour has a water station for bees and soft mangoes are sliced as a nectar station as most flowers are gone. No bees, no pollination, no crops!

The NWC must own drought, hug it up, and create a comprehensive response manual with five colour-coded levels to kick-in, say, May 1, with some fanfare, which kids learn from early. Code Green is normal and Code Red is the harshest with graduated protocols in-between that affect all living things, home, school, indoor and outdoor work, motorists. Each code level would have an urban home and horticultural component, a rural home and agriculture one, and subsets for the vulnerable. Why not give a bottle of water to the beggar, instead of a dollar? Put out a bowl of water for stray dogs and cats?

The process would be led by the NWC, but engage all. How can we start it? Most people do not know how water gets to their pipes; you may hear experts on media naming wells, rivers, works, wastewater plants, but they have no clue what one looks like, what it does, or where it is. The NWC should produce a popular coffee-table-type manual with photos, illustrations titled 'Our Water', as knowledge will banish ignorance and defuse anger. Public educators would love it — schools, citizens' associations, artists, and writers would be inspired to create pamphlets, posters, social media videos on how to deal with drought, bush fires and, there would be no shortage of sponsors for branded print runs.

Our city fathers and Cabinet can also help the nation. For example, a helicopter or drone could give us a morning and afternoon sweep of our cityscape; weather, air quality, allergy alerts; traffic pile-ups and delays, emergencies. Radio, TV and advertisers would help. Mr Minister, Mr Mayor, is the Kingston Metropolitan Region commuter worth an unmanned aerial vehicle, aka a drone? Some British police forces use drones with flight times of 25 to 45 minutes — all bought with proceeds of crime seizures. Can we try this? The Aeryon Skyranger used by the Metro London police could do our city-scan and be used for crime fighting too. It has cameras, night vision, etc ( UK Telegraph, July 8, 2019).

This year's dry season hit mangoes and pears, and before you could say “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper” the heat made them ripen and spoil; just as we resumed exports of Julie mango to America. What a crosses! City gardeners need a NWC bly, as motorists stuck in traffic enjoy the plants and gardens of Rollington Town, Allman Town, Mona, Cherry Gardens, Arcadia; across to Stony Hill, Red Hills, Perkins Estate, and the Boulevard. Trees, hedges, and gardens block dust, noise, and calm spirits. How much is this worth? More gardens, less road rage. Sir, jail car washers, not gardeners!

What about “pop-up” free water stations (two coolers and a bench) in areas where footfall is high? A mobile one as well? So, what about youth forest rangers? Who trains in forestry crafts; to cope with heat stroke; dehydration; or brush fire? Can firms have water fairs, specials on drinks, umbrellas, or just profit as usual?

A robust drought-mitigation plan and actions can relieve pressures on the NWC and its customers, as well improve public health and open the floodgates of public education creativity and innovation. It can ease the sum total of human suffering across the island. Drought is not fun; and we expect more. If the NWC implements this plan and water justice we would be less about self and more caring for all living things. Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.


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