Drought-stricken residents in west steal water from health facilities
Calvin G. Brown, chairman of the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), says his organisation is becoming increasingly concerned about the illegal removal of water from public-health facilities in the west by persons who are being affected by the drought affecting the island.
"We are very concerned about the situation, but we can't arrest the people for taking the water," said Brown. "Currently, we are using moral suasion to get them to not to remove the water. If they continue to remove the water and there is not any to operate our clinics, they will be the ones who will ultimately be affected."
While Brown was not able to say whether the "moral suasion" approach was having the desired impact, he said the WRHA did not have to close any of its facilities because of a lack of water. He said he hoped the situation would stay that way for the duration of the period of drought.
Dr Ken-Garfield Douglas, regional director of the WRHA, was the first to go public with his concern about water being illegally taken from the limited amount the WHRA has in storage at the health facilities in the region.
The WRHA has responsibility for the four hospitals and 84 health centres located in the parishes of Trelawny, St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland. Currently, none of the hospitals is experiencing any water problems, albeit the continued illegal extraction from their supplies could create a problem in the future.
"With the exception of the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, all the other facilities have limited capacities," said Douglas, who stated that the international standard for water storage at a hospital is at least three days' supply. "We have assessed that the capacity that we have for storage is very limited, except for Cornwall Regional, which has storage for up to seven days ... . We are nowhere near the recommended three days."
However, while the situation at the hospitals has not yet reached worrisome proportions, Douglas was concerned about the health centres as more communities were taking away the water they have in storage.
"We are currently plagued, with 42 per cent of our major health centres, that is, Types Five, Four and Three, not having any consistent water supply, so we have to be trucking water," said Douglas. "When we truck water to these facilities, there is limited storage capacity and the problem is compounded by the fact that residents in many communities where the health centres are located help themselves to most of the water."
According to the WRHA director, most of the water in storage at the health centres is removed over the weekend so that by Monday morning, the clinics have to resort to trucking more water. He said those taking the water should bear in mind that by taking the water, they could be putting their own health or that of a family member or close friend in jeopardy. Additionally, it is creating additional expenses for the WRHA.
"The water supplied to the health facilities by the NWC (National Water Commission) comes at a heavy cost, and those who are stealing it are adding to the already high operational cost of providing quality health care to the thousands of patients in our hospitals and health centres."