Mon | Jan 23, 2017

Health implications of drought

Published:Saturday | March 6, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Drought is, for Jamaica, an annual recurring event. The current hot, dry conditions that have persisted for several months have created many health and environmental challenges for sections of the island. Businesses, farmers and householders have been feeling the effects caused by the lower-than-expected rainfall, especially across the southern belt where the majority of the nation's food is cultivated.

And the reported increase of gastro-enteritis cases in the Corporate Area has only served to make people more nervous about the country's readiness to deal with a potential public-health crisis.

We agree with Opposition Spokesman on Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, that there needs to be an aggressive public-education campaign to alert citizens to the lurking dangers and provide guidance on how they should prepare their families to combat typical vector-borne diseases.

A supply of safe water is critical to public health. It has been reported that the current dry spell has left some rivers and streams with stagnant water. It follows that these streams could also be infected with bacteria. It is critical that persons are warned about using these sources to access water for their domestic use. The frequent washing of hands and the use of bleach are also recommended. We suggest that there should be increased vigilance by public-health inspectors of places where food is handled, including restaurants, canteens and cookshops. Virus is easily transferred though contact with contaminated food or water.

Risk of bush fires

Combined with the dry conditions, we have recently experienced heavy gusts of wind, which raise the risk of bush fires, which again can trigger respiratory problems in addition to the potential for loss of live and property. The fire services must, therefore, be on alert in order to be able to respond nimbly to the effects these conditions might have on people and the environment.

Dr Ferguson also called for collaboration between the key ministries of Health and Water to devise strategies and suitable interventions. We would also add that the Ministry of Agriculture should be part of that conversation to plan mitigation strategies, especially for our farmers' benefit.

As we noted above, drought is a recurring phenomenon and the policymakers must, therefore, develop the kind of long-term strategy that involves preparedness, rehabilitation, relief and reduction of vulnerability. Drought management has to be seen as critical to growth and should therefore be considered as an item within our regular development programmes.

It is not good enough for state agencies to wring their hands in distress when there is a drought, we should plan for it by applying creative thinking to find long-term water and sanitation interventions, especially among the most vulnerable members of society.

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