Sun | Aug 18, 2019

Editorial | Stave off water riots

Published:Monday | January 14, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica's urban water-supply crisis in the southeast is legendary, but the unfolding dilemma of dysfunction and incompetence, not only owing to the culpability of the National Water Commission (NWC), is unacceptable.

The ritual hand-wringing with every drought cycle has not wrought intervention beyond a restating of the obvious: the oversilting of dams, the failure to build a new reservoir for the ballooning city, the lack of traction on rehabilitating contaminated wells, thus tapping into rich aquifers. It goes on and on.

Mark Barnett, the NWC's president, is fully aware of the solutions, but has not provided a timeline for their achievement.

If anything, the only real progress the commission has made is on the installation of state-of-the-art meters and the overhaul of ageing, leaking underground mains under the Non-Revenue Water Reduction Programme.

But recently, the rash of pipeline breaks on the reconstruction works along the Mandela Highway signifies a deficit in intergovernmental project management that has not only been embarrassing, but expensive. Crewmen working for China Harbour Engineering Company have repeatedly busted pipelines in the proximity of Tom Cringle Drive, flooding the interparish roadway and causing multiple traffic snarls. The bill, when comprehensively assessed, runs into billions of dollars.

It is thus logical to conclude that gross ineptitude and a lack of inter-agency coordination are at the root of the series of missteps. If not, it would mean that the contractors are a bunch of rogues operating on whim and with frolic. For there is no evidence that the hand knows what the foot is doing.

Amid the chaos, the NWC has reneged on its assurances to supply scores of Corporate Area communities on alternate days, stoking anger and frustration. The upshot is that there are some neighbourhoods that have had negligible amounts or no water for days, if not weeks, which presents a threat to public cleanliness, hygiene and health.

The appalling supply shortages and non-performance of the NWC have dangerous consequences, especially regarding food preparation. With inadequate access to clean water, homes and food-related businesses are more prone to cutting corners by ignoring best practices.

There have been grave financial ramifications as well. Companies highly dependent on water as an input of production have had to be spending multiples more on privately sourced water, eroding bottom lines because of the commission's unreliability.

If the NWC does not get its act together soon, it may not be able stave off water riots by the thirsty and unwashed masses.