Tue | Jul 23, 2019

Garth Rattray | Water woes, recurring decimal

Published:Monday | May 20, 2019 | 12:15 AM
Our need for water is only superseded by our need for oxygen, yet that life-giving and life-saving commodity is denied to hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans every single day.

With the multiplicity of simultaneous ‘legacy’ roadwork projects going on, many teeming inner-city and several middleclass communities have been without potable water for months. I’m always mystified by a political machinery that espouses concern for the less fortunate while exposing them or allowing them to be exposed to the harshest social circumstances imaginable.

Our need for water is only superseded by our need for oxygen, yet that life-giving and life-saving commodity is denied to hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans every single day. Aside from the obvious need for drinking water, it’s essential for food preparation, personal and community hygiene.

Oftentimes, the less fortunate are subject to prejudices. Their problems have been compounded because, in this ultra-modern 21st century, many poor Jamaicans reek because they can’t afford to purchase or store water to wash themselves or their clothes.

The roadworks have rendered several communities dry since 2018. And, many more communities were added to the list of waterless areas as the roadworks progressed. Some got trickles of water during brief early-morning hours and then, as soon as the drought months arrived, the trickles dried up. Now, more than ever, the black plastic water tanks and blue barrels assume ubiquity as the gut-wrenching hiss of dry water pipes grow louder every day.

What I find utterly distressing is the recurrent problem of ‘drought’ in a land where the annual rainwater is far more than adequate but has been inadequately harvested, stored and distributed for decades. Although our population, and especially the urban population, has grown significantly, there has not been any impactful effort to increase catchment, storage and delivery of the essential commodity.

I looked back at an article that I penned for The Gleaner over 10 years ago, ‘Jamaica, land of would have water’, and was disappointed to see that the same problems have persisted long before then and continue today.


The following statement was true then, remain true today, and will be true for a long time to come – long lists of areas are affected by scheduled restrictions, challenges for potable water delivery, antiquated equipment, old iron pipes with lead joints, areas with asbestos/cement pipes, pipes that are susceptible to leaks, especially at the rubber joints, undetectable leaks and substantive problems with encrustation (especially in the Spanish Town area) that constrict pipes by up to 66 per cent.

There are also problems of airlocks caused by power outages in areas that use electrical pumps to distribute water, inadequate and/or heavily silted water-storage facilities, disappointing inflows from the Hope River and the Yallahs pipeline due to clogs by sand and garbage, and, of course, the inability to collect revenue from ‘red’ areas (some high-risk inner-city communities).

Even before the annual drought and resultant water restrictions were imposed, modern-day flush toilets mocked enumerable Jamaicans as they only served as reservoirs of liquid and solid human waste in homes, businesses, public facilities, places of worship, health facilities and educational institutions.

The sale of water has become big business in the land of wood and water. There is a secondary educational institution that spends $55,000 every school week on water for only a part of the school. Some schools have had to close for several days because of the lack of water.

As usual, successive administrations have only employed ‘Band-Aid’ solutions to our water-shortage problems, and our people continue to suffer perennially. Obviously, the same initiative, drive and commitment into seeking foreign grants, loans, aid, whatever, has not been put into seeking solutions to our water woes, as they have been put into seeking transport solutions. The gross dereliction of duty to provide such a basic amenity as water continues. And now we are being told to pray for deliverance … Amen.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.