Editorial | Price of inner-city neglect
'Tis the season to be jolly, but residents of Denham Town and Hannah Town may find it hard to celebrate since they have been deprived of one of life's basic necessities - water. As reported in this newspaper, sections of these communities have had no water in their pipes since August. And in other areas, the residents are served by one functioning pipe.
The challenge is that decaying water supply infrastructure is being replaced and new valves are being installed in these communities. Spanking new pipes which were laid as part of the intervention under the zone of special operations (ZOSO) were supposed to lead clean water into the homes of people in these inner-city communities. But they have remained dry. The project has taken much longer than expected. While the National Water Commission is craving their understanding, residents are understandably unhappy.
Reverend Father Mark Hallinan of St Anne's Catholic Church is demanding answers from the powers that be about this and other social improvements that were supposed to accompany ZOSO.
Over the years, several attempts at rejuvenation have started in inner-city communities and they range from removing zinc fences to constructing houses, yet none of these approaches have been truly successful. Indeed, many of these ad hoc and ambitious projects have experienced a high failure rate.
The cleric painted a grim view when he declared that the communities had taken a "giant step backwards".
He laid out a compelling case when he explained that the Ministry of Education is spending $40,000 every fortnight to have water trucked to schools. Residents also must buy trucked water for their domestic use. Water is the cornerstone of healthcare because health and water are tightly connected. The lack of water, therefore, has grave implications for health, hygiene, sanitation and firefighting.
Kingston is truly a city of two faces. There is one face where infrastructure is in relatively good shape and there is another face, a mere stone's throw away, where poor people are exposed to an unacceptable level of social neglect and poverty. The gap is glaring. Poverty, as it turns out, bears substantial financial costs to the entire country.
The neglect of many communities has created fertile ground for criminal behaviour, as well as drug-running and gang activity. The country has been feeling the ill-effects of many decades of social neglect of inner cities, and Jamaica's once good name has taken a beating internationally.
Given the persistence of the problems, it is imperative that the situation gets greater political attention. The ultimate cure can only happen when neighbourhoods undergo revitalisation which must include better prospects for employment, housing, general social services such as garbage collection, beautification and general all -round improvement.
Of course, residents also have a responsibility to be economically responsible and pay for services that they use. The days of social water are truly over.
The change we advocate can only happen with comprehensive planning and proper coordination of all the specialised public agencies. We submit that the social stability of the country hangs on how effectively, efficiently and urgently these social problems are addressed.
Overall, there are too many citizens of this country who are dissatisfied with the quality and delivery of social services. Citizens' voices are growing louder as they demand that their government provide them with these basic services and improve their lives.