Water a scarce commodity

Published: Monday | December 14, 2009

One of the water trucks owned by a resident of Windsor Heights. - Photo by Mark Beckford

ACCESS TO safe drinking water and proper sanitation is seen as a precondition for health and success in the fight against poverty. However, some residents of Windsor Heights, St Catherine, do not believe they are being given a fair shot at any of these goals because of the poor access to water.

Residents of Windsor Heights, which is located in the constituency of South East St Catherine, complained extensively of their plight to The Gleaner during a recent tour of the community.

Megan Marsten, public relations officer for the Windsor Heights Combined Citizens' Association, said that despite the community being surrounded by pumps, residents have become used to an irregular supply of water.

"I want to show you the wells and the pumps that surround the community, yet it is starved of water," said Martsen. "The pumps are well kept because of the cooperation of the community. The people don't go on with too much demonstrations, we prefer to dialogue to achieve what we want rather than to destroy structures within the community," she added.

New system

Cyril Henry, head of the Windsor Heights Small Business Group, said residents have been in dialogue with the National Water Commission (NWC) but it has not been moving with alacrity.

"We used to have water all over, but in 2007 the system went down for about seven to eight months," said Martsen. "Nobody paid attention, so we decided we would have a demonstration to get the attention of the authorities in January 2008. The Water Commission came in and we showed them the problem. The old system was working and they put in a new system, but it never worked that fine," she said.

Henry told The Gleaner that after the meeting in January 2008, the NWC had proposed that residents begin paying $3,000 for a rehabilitation project. He said individuals were reluctant to pay the fee; but they eventually did when the work started, some even paying a $6,000 fee.

Henry said residents in sections of the community, such as Gilgal and Melva Top, have not seen pipes or water. As a result, he said, these residents have had to purchase water from trucks, with prices for a tank of water going for $1,200 and a drum of water $600. Henry noted this could not compensate effectively for an average family of five for a week.

In a written response to the residents, NWC acknowledged their complaints, while listing the actions the utility company has taken to correct the situation.

The commission said the informal structure of Windsor Heights has posed a challenge to providing proper facilities. The commission said that normally the developers of a community would lay out the infrastructure to facilitate water.

Persons to be refunded

In the case of Gilgal, which is located farther in the hills, the commission said it was now examining a proposal from the residents after initially contem-plating not supplying them with the service.

"There are sections of the Windsor Heights area that cannot be served with the existing infrastructure. We had taken a decision to refund these persons until we are able to guarantee improvements," the NWC said in statement emailed to The Gleaner.

"One such section is Gilgal; however, when this was communicated to the residents, they adamantly expressed their willingness to offset the cost of providing a pump. Currently, our Field Operations, Water Production and Maintenance departments are examining the cost and benefits of this proposal," the NWC stated.

The utility company also disclosed that it has spent $8.5 million thus far on improving access to the community but has recouped only over $300,000. It also has expressed concern that it will not recover its investment in Windsor Heights, which it sees as an inner-city community.

"We have conducted the necessary feasibility study, and given the nature of the community, there is no guarantee that we will be able to recover our revenue, as oftentimes willingness to pay is only expressed before and not after the infrastructure is up and running."

But Windsor Heights spokesman, Cyril Henry, has denied the commission's claims, arguing that if residents are buying water from the truck, they have no problem in getting it from the NWC.

"The water commission says water is life, you know, so if we are going to pay for life, we are going to need life," declared Henry.


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