Water woes plague St Andrew residents
STAYING up late at night or getting out of bed in the wee hours of the morning just so you can catch water to bathe, cook and do other domestic chores, may awaken memories of a not-so-distant life in the country.
For many city folk, however, this is the life the extended dry spell has forced upon them. Almost everywhere you go in St Andrew southern — as indeed in other parts of the city — you’ll see children, young people, old folk, men and women with bottles, kegs, buckets and drums waiting their turn at central spots. Once full, they balance them on their heads, push them on wooden carts, cart them off on bicycles.
So bad is the shortage of water that schools in the area are forced to abandon classes and send students home before the regularly scheduled dismissal times. Some of those affected are Lyndhurst, National Baptist and Sister Cole basic schools as well as Charlie Smith High in Arnett Gardens.
When we visited the latter last Wednesday, classes had been dismissed and there was a note on the door to the main office informing that they would not resume until Monday, March 15.
Vice-principal Errol Smickle, who is heading out to the Ministry of Education at Heroes’ Circle to restate the urgency of the situation, tells the Sunday Observer the school has been losing sessions since last term.
“From last summer we’ve been having this problem. Last December, we had many days when we did not open the school. We had two weeks of respite in early January, but since February we’ve been in and out.
“For the last two weeks, the water trucks have not been regular. This week (March 8-12) there has been no truck and we’re at the stage now where we just can’t continue given the school population and the demand on the toilets. We had sessions this morning but we’re unable to continue after lunch,” he says.
Smickle says the education ministry ordered the school closed for one week in December as a result of the lack of water coupled with the threat of foot-and-mouth disease.
“We’re losing too many days and it’s not like we have the brightest students in the world so we need as much contact time with them as possible, but we can’t do better under the circumstances,” he said.
Smickle adds that attendance at school is also affected by water woes in the surrounding communities themselves. Those woes are the major concern for residents of Arnett Gardens, Trench Town, Jungle, Rema, Rose Town.
In Rema, we meet two women washing under a shed on a small compound with wash tubs and shower stalls. It is called Baths of Joy and was donated by Joy Town Community Development Fund in association with Digicel and Jamaica Broilers. They tell us that “the majority” of their community — New City Housing Scheme, and the wider Rema area — washes there. It is also where the community fetches water.
“It’s very difficult to walk with the wet clothes,” says Nicola Griffiths.
“And we have to come back come catch water fi bathe and fi cook. We have it hard, but give God thanks fi here so,” adds Natalie Levy.
The women said the compound, which also has a standpipe, has existed for years but had fallen into disrepair. Its refurbishment was spearheaded by the Joy Town Foundation, the outreach arm of the Joy Town Covenant Community Church, so named, according to senior elder Lionel Nugent, in an attempt to escape the negatives associated with the Trench Town name.
“We have spearheaded projects like the youth club at the old Ambassador theatre, the Joy Town Learning centre and Baths of Joy,” says Nugent.
Joy Town is one of two faith-based institutions that have been working to develop the social and economic profiles of the constituency which has been known for violent crimes. The other is Praise City International in neighbouring Trench Town.
“The churches generally have been really making an impact through good deeds,” says Praise City’s Dr Henley Morgan.
In his outreach project, labelled Agency for Inner-city Renewal, Morgan focuses on youth development and mentoring, people empowerment, business development, and peace brokering.
He says that of the current 58 members of the mentoring programme, 27 are on full university scholarships and that there are currently more than 475 persons from the people empowerment programme employed “at all levels, from worker to management”.
“You hardly see people on the road in here,” he says of the community which has benefited from improved housing solutions under the Inner-city Housing Project.
The business development aspect teaches community, members about doing business and it offers small business loans, in conjunction with COK Co-operative Credit Union. It is called the Livity Loan and, according to Morgan’s records, roughly $12 million has been lent to date. The delinquency rate, he says, is around six per cent.
Of peace brokering, Morgan says: “When we moved here, five years ago, it was hell; just war… [but] we don’t have to do a lot of that these days because there has been a dramatic reduction in the homicide rate.”
The figures he cites seem to support his claim: 160 in 2005; 80 in 2006; 140 in 2007; 57 in 2008; and 52 in 2009.
Comments made by residents all over the constituency also support Morgan’s claims. Everywhere you go, people celebrate the end of a period of violence that lasted about five years.
“The only problem we have now is water. There is no war; everybody under one unity,” Mark Bryan of Arnett Gardens says.
“We not ‘fraid fi go nowhere now. Everybody is one,” men gathered at a shop in Craig Town say. “The place peaceful right now. The people just a bawl fi work,” adds Simone Simpson, an unemployed single mother of two.
And in Torrington Park, residents — many of whom lost relatives to a violent conflict sparked by men from another community who attempted to drive the residents out — say there has been calm since 2007 when “dem kill the don who was causing the war”.
Bryan says the peace came about when Member of Parliament Omar Davies “decide fi tek ah stand and put him foot down”.
The process started with the painting of high-rise buildings in the community and in nearby Jones Town, and the launching of the Corner League sports competition.
“Before that [it] was four years of war an’ whole heap ah people dead. Pickney dead, woman dead,” Bryan says, shaking his head.
And although the violence has ended, residual effects are evident in some communities. In Jones Town, for example, residents are in dire need of human development projects like evening classes to make them employable, but they refuse to cross over into the Rema and Arnett Gardens areas to access the service at Charlie Smith High.
“Yuh know how long some people don’t go over there?” one young woman asks. “From the war [finish] people from one side don’t go over to the other side. Some people not going over there. We need a centre different from over there.”
And while constituents lament the difficulty they face securing even low-level jobs, and the challenges to send their children to school each day, some residents of Craig Town/Jones Town will have a few months’ reprieve. The Jamaica Social Investment Fund is currently upgrading the water supply system in the communities and, consistent with its policy, the agency has contracted labour from within the area.
The project, which involves the laying of four-inch PVC pipes to replace dated two-inch cast iron ones, should last until the end of July.
Other concerns raised by constituents are the need for proper housing, like in Rose Town where residents point to rusty zinc sheets held down by blocks. They say the zinc has not been changed for over 30 years and neither have the roads been repaired in that time. They also argue that infrequent garbage collection in their area poses health risks since they have to store refuse for weeks on end.
And the communities all agree that the MP is not visible enough in the area.
“Him don’t come here often but anytime him come him have one bag a man ’round him like him ‘fraid a di community,” a Craig Town resident criticises.