Prevent water politics, please, Mr Prime Minister
A rainwater harvesting system at the Essex Hall Primary School. (Photo: Observer File)

JUST over three years ago we had, in this space, commended the United Nations Development Programme Jamaica and the Jamaica 4H Clubs for a rainwater-harvesting project implemented to boost food security during dry seasons across the country.

Our commentary was informed by a story we had published stating that the system was being tested and observed by students and teachers of 70 training institutions across the country, as a result of a gift of water storage tanks, conveyance systems, and drip irrigation hoses from the Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership, funded by the people of Japan.

Participating training institutions included primary and high schools, Jamaica 4H centres, and correctional centres, many located in rural communities.

The programme was influenced by data provided by the Social and Economic Survey 2018 which had indicated that the average annual rainfall was below the 30-year mean for most parishes. It had also stated that there were 20 more incidents of normal drought and eight more incidents of severe drought than the previous year.

That resulted in farmers being forced to contend with worsening condition due to climate change.

We were heartened by this programme because a reported 101,732 people, including students, residents and teachers, were benefiting from it.

We were also encouraged by a revelation at the time that 30 additional schools were to benefit from rainwater-harvesting systems to be installed by Rural Water Supply Limited (RWSL), which had already commissioned into service systems at Rock Hall All-Age in St Andrew, and Enid Bennett High School in Bog Walk, St Catherine, with another 30 set for completion by the end of the 2019/20 fiscal year.

At the time, as well, Mr Audley Thompson, the RWSL managing director, had said that the agency's increased budget had enabled it to look about installing systems in more schools and communities.

Our reflection on these developments is driven by Prime Minister Andrew Holness's appeal to Jamaicans on Friday to conserve water, given the meteorological drought Jamaica is now experiencing.

In addition to asking citizens to reduce the number of times they wash their motor vehicles and water their lawns; turn off water tanks when not in use; and check homes for leaks, Mr Holness also appealed to the public to start collecting whatever rainwater they can.

We join him in that appeal as we have always argued that rainwater harvesting is a vital tool in Jamaica's climate change adaptation arsenal.

There is no challenging the fact that rainwater harvesting helps to reduce demand on groundwater, contributes to a decrease in soil erosion and flooding, and provides water suitable for irrigation and use in gardens. Additionally, the water can be used for a number of non-drinking purposes.

The prime minister also told the country that the Government is pumping another $100 million into trucking water to residents in rural communities who are badly impacted by the drought.

That, we believe, is a good decision. However, Mr Holness should ensure that safeguards are put in place to prevent the water delivery programme being hijacked by partisan politics, as has happened with the distribution of vital resources in the past.

The country needs to rise above that level of iniquitous behaviour.

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