Tue | Apr 25, 2017

Editorial: A water policy after all

Published:Wednesday | September 2, 2015 | 9:00 AM

We are gratified that Robert Pickersgill has, at least temporarily, been wrestled out of his torpidity and that Jamaica may, as a result, get an updated water policy. As vexing as we may have been to the water, land, environment and climate change minister, this newspaper won't claim credit for his stirring.

Although optimistic, we, however, remain wary that hints of cloud cover and the occasional patter of raindrops will induce Mr Pickersgill and his technocrats into a new lethargy from which nothing gets done. Jamaicans are, after all, accustomed to the cycle of agitation during droughts and somnolence once the rains fall.

The encouragement, though, comes from the remarks of Col Oral Khan, the chief technical officer in Mr Pickersgill's ministry, that they are drafting a water policy and that the minister has infused urgency into the effort.

As we have been noting several times in recent months, the existing water policy was drafted 16 years ago and reads more like a hastily drawn-up manifesto of broad intent, rather than a purposeful, strategic plan for the harvesting, management and distribution of a strategic resource in the context of the impact of climate change.

It was obvious in 1999, but more so now, as Colonel Khan concedes, that with warming global temperatures and variable weather patterns, Jamaica, like other countries, cannot depend on old cycles of droughts followed by predictable rainy seasons to replenish resources. Droughts are becoming increasingly longer.

It seems to us, therefore, that a water policy has to include, among other things, new modes for harvesting the commodity and the integration of water-management policies with those governing the built environment. For instance, finding new uses for wastewater from our cities and towns and the economic pricing of water must be part of the agenda, if rational distribution systems, to take the commodity from surplus to deficit regions, are to be financed.

In other words, as Mr Pickersgill must be aware, a new water policy is not an end in itself. It should be the beginning of new approaches to the guardianship and sustainable use of a resource that is critical to life and which may grow scarce. The hard work is merely starting.