Regional

Drought-hit south St Elizabeth thankful for small mercies

Toughing it out

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large, South/Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 11, 2014    

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — In the context of extreme drought conditions in southern St Elizabeth, the Government's recent emergency allocation of $5 million for trucking water could be exhausted very quickly.

However, political representatives are giving thanks.

"Look at it this way, any help is good and this is $5 million we didn't have before," said Member of Parliament for South East St Elizabeth, Richard Parchment.

Hugh Buchanan, MP for St Elizabeth South West, described the allocation as "very welcome and appreciated".

Buchanan was grateful that the pledge made by Local Government Minister Noel Arscott during a recent tour has "already been made good" with cash flowing for trucking to communities most in need.

Rain over the last two weeks in the north, central and west of St Elizabeth has replenished many of the all-important domestic rain water catchment tanks and has also eased the pressure on distressed farmers.

However, large swathes of South East St Elizabeth and communities at the eastern fringe of the parish's south-west have seen little or no rain since April/May.

Not only have crops being devastated but increasingly residents in such areas are under pressure to find water to drink, bathe and cook.

Less than half of St Elizabeth's households receive piped water from the NWC and the situation is at its worse in the south-east where only an estimated 10 per cent of households get piped NWC water.

Communities considered to be in greatest need for emergency trucking late last week included Todd Town, Nembhard Town, Comma Pen, Bull Savannah, Junction, Ballards Valley, Tryall, Southfield, Ridge, Flagaman, Round Hill, and further south through Pedro Plains to Treasure Beach.

Parchment said the recent rain in much of the rest of the parish had "freed up additional resources" for trucking to the stricken south-east. It is costing about $1 million weekly for public sector trucking of social (free) water to distressed communties, Parchment said.

Residents who are able to afford it are paying as much as $15,000 to private truckers for a load of water while operators of small wagons and open-back vans have done a thriving business delivering in much smaller quantities.

The MP observed that in years past, many residents now dependent on central government and the parish council would have been buying their own water.

However, he said, the collapse of St Elizabeth's bauxite/alumina sector with the closure of the Alpart plant in 2009 and the "decimation" of agriculture caused by the long drought means that many of the usually self reliant are now penniless.

Completion of the long delayed Essex Valley water scheme - on which infrastructural work is slated to resume today (Monday) - is expected to bring piped domestic water to many of the communities in SE St Elizabeth now crying out for water in the medium- to long-term.

However, in the current short-term situation, Parchment emphasised that rain, and plenty of it, was the only sustainable solution.

The government's information arm, Jamaica Information Service (JIS) has reported director of the Meteorological Service, Jeffrey Spooner, as saying that at the end of June, Jamaica had received 33 per cent of its normal rainfall.

Jamaica is said to be experiencing not just its driest season, but in May, temperatures were the hottest since 1880, and June was 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than any June since the 1800s.

St Elizabeth, Manchester, Clarendon, St Catherine, Kingston and St Andrew, and the north eastern parishes of Portland and St. Mary have been the hardest hit.

Spooner said that St Elizabeth received 33 per cent of its normal rainfall in June, and July was one of the driest months the parish had experienced in recent years.

He is projecting that "going forward" rainfall for August, September and October will "be below normal".

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