Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Small businesses, medical sector reeling from impact of drought

Published:Wednesday | August 5, 2015 | 8:00 AM
Alexis
Chung
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President of the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ) Hugh Johnson has said that his members have been severely affected by the drought, which has been affecting the island.

Speaking with The Gleaner, he said that some businesses have been operating shorter hours because of the lack of water.

"The drought is hurting businesses badly. When you have non-existent disposable income, and you have to be paying exorbitant amounts to fill up a black tank, sometimes the productive endeavour of the operation suffers because your staff can't utilise the necessary facilities that they would normally be accustomed to, hence, sometimes we have to go home early or stagger the operations," he said.

He went on to explain that the businesses whose operations are water intensive have been most affected.

"Hairdressers are challenged by the fact that they are unable to operate because their operations utilise a great amount of water, and that is not available to them, so it is very challenging," he added.

The bulk of his members are involved in agriculture, and Johnson pointed out that the farming community has been devastated by the drought.

"We are noting some farmers have as high as 55 per cent rejection on their crop because of the impact of the drought. The coconut farmers are experiencing smaller cups and the coffee farmers are seeing smaller beans, resulting in a high rejection rate," he said.

 

Health facilities biding time

 

While hospitals islandwide are, for the most part, coping with the limited water that is now available, health professionals are holding on to the hope that their current water supply will outlast the drought.

In separate responses to The Gleaner, the leadership of the health ministry and the two doctors' associations echoed similar sentiments with regard to the supply of water to health facilities.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr Kevin Harvey says that the hospitals have not been faring too badly as they have been well supplied by the National Water Commission. He also noted that while most hospitals have water in storage, it was difficult to tell how long the supplies would last.

For his part, President of the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association (JMDA) Dr Alfred Dawes confirmed that hospitals were getting adequate supplies of water but raised doubts about a consistent flow should the drought continue.

"The concern now is what we will do when the supplies get even lower because we don't know how long this will last, and I don't know what other contingencies are in place if we have an extended period of drought, so we hope the rains will come soon," the JMDA president said.

Dr Shane Alexis, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica, said that most doctors in the private sector had storage capacity but pointed out that the cost of trucking water affected the financial position of these private practices.

According to Alexis, "In the private sector, many health facilities are small businesses, and, just like any other business, if they have to access water from private suppliers, then that is going to affect cost," he said.

 

Don't cut corners

 

The Ministry of Health is making an appeal to the public to observe hygienic and food-safety practices despite the restricted supply of water brought on by the drought. In a series of press releases, the ministry pointed to three main areas which it wants persons to be mindful of:

- Proper storage of water. Ensure that containers are covered to prevent mosquito breeding, particularly when using drums.

- Usage of safe water. Ensure that water is properly treated if used from a source other than the National Water Commission. This can be done with the use of bleach.

-Practise proper hygiene. Despite the shortage of water, ensure that hands are washed regularly and that environs are kept in a clean condition. This will prevent the spread of bacteria.

Adding his voice to the ministry's appeal, Alexis has issued a caution of his own.

"When people do not have water, it affects many different types of practices. You have festivities now celebrating our independence and emancipation, so you have an increase in social activities, and, of course, food, and with the limitations with access to water ... it can expose us to unnecessary transmission of infections such as gastroenteritis. These are some of the risks when persons try to cut corners," he said.

 

drought may lower GDP

 

CEO of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Dennis Chung has weighed in on the impact of the drought from an economic perspective.

"The drought is a concern from the point of view primarily that the drought is causing inflation in food prices, and it's going to affect production again, which means that we are losing maybe up to one per cent of GDP this year again," he said.

Chung expressed disappointment that the lessons of previous dry seasons have not been used to prepare for the drought, which now plagues the country.

"We knew that the drought was going come this year, but we never started to do anything to address the situation, and we can't continue like this, and this is why we have been calling for the Government to look at the privatisation of places like the NWC (National Water Commission)," he said.

andre.poyser@gleanerjm.com