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Chikungunya helps make case for greater access to running water

Published:Tuesday | October 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Gerry Eijkemans

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas: GETTING POTABLE water into a greater number of homes is now more important than ever given the addition of chikungunya to the mosquito-borne viruses occurring in the Caribbean.

"As long as we don't have access at home to water, people will store water. That is one of the biggest challenges. In principle, you can store a little bit of water close to your house, but it needs to be covered, protected," said Dr Gerry Eijkemans, a representative of the Pan American Health/World Health Organisation.

Otherwise, she said, containers become breeding sites for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the chikungunya virus, which has afflicted hundreds of Jamaicans and others across the Caribbean.

"You can empty [containers] and go again, but we know [some] people won't do it because they don't feel the need. So people need to have access to piped water in their homes, and that is the best solution. And it cannot mean you have one hour of water per day because then you still need to store water," said Eijkemans.

However, getting water into people's pipes is an expensive endeavour - an issue that emerged at the high-level session of water and environment ministers, convened as part of the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association Conference here last Thursday.

In Jamaica, as revealed by communications manager for the National Water Commission Charles Buchanan recently, it costs J$500 million in electricity monthly to serve its customers. Up to 70 per cent of Jamaicans also get their water through household connections.

At the same time, some of those customers, as others in the country, hold that water should be free - a fact lamented by Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill during last Thursday's session.

Non-revenue water

It is a mentality that explains, at least in part, the high level of non-revenue water, which stands at upwards of 60 per cent in Jamaica, as elsewhere in the region, according to information from a recently concluded Caribbean Development Bank study.

The consensus among ministers present was that public education was needed to help people understand that potable water was costly and that its quality could not be guaranteed if not paid for.

In the absence of running water in some homes, Eijkemans said that people have a responsibility to ensure that their stored water is mosquito free and that the authorities support their efforts.

"As long as we have [unprotected stored water], we are creating our own breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and that is something people need to understand," she said.