Jamaicans brace for second day of dry taps
Stacy Ann Johnson was only able to source a bottle of water to allow her children to brush their teeth and wash their faces before sending them off to school on Tuesday.
The nationwide strike by National Water Commission (NWC) workers derailed her plans for them to have a fresh bath in the morning – a misfortune that greeted hundreds of thousands of householders who awoke to dry pipes as staff of the public utility pressed their claim for the ratification of a reclassification exercise that has dragged on for more than a decade.
For poor families like Johnson’s that don’t have any of the ubiquitous black tanks perched above her rooftop, the consequences of lock-offs are more dire than for most.
“What happens to when the pickney dem haffi go a school? Toilet haffi flush. Clothes fi clean. Breakfast haffi make!” she exclaimed.
Disturbed by her inability to do laundry, Johnson was hopeful that normality would return by sunset on Tuesday.
Rohan Treleven, principal of Franklin Town Primary, expressed similar concern, as he was conflicted as to whether the school would have to send home students early amid the brewing crisis which affected the institution at 10 a.m.
Treleven said that a water shortage for even a few days would have a significant impact on the school’s operations.
“It’s gonna be difficult to close, especially since some parents are at work and we can’t just send home the children. We don’t know what we’re sending them home to,” he said, noting that he would have to consult with the board chairman and education officer to make the decision.
However, the school’s reserves in a 1,000-gallon tank and six others with a capacity of 650 gallons were able to suffice.
Meanwhile, a resident on Roehampton Close in Havendale, who purchased water from a private company to truck water to her residence, expressed concern for poorer inner-city families.
“I really don’t have a problem with the people protesting, because [it] is the only reason why you get response ... . It’s only drastic measures in Jamaica seem to get a response,” she added.
Placard-bearing protesters lined the roadway leading to the NWC’s head office located on Marescaux Road in Kingston.
With the entrance barricaded, employees, including managers, demanded retroactive payments reportedly owed to them since 2008.
Roy Lawrence, manager of field operations at the NWC, told The Gleaner that he was only observing the Marescaux Road demonstrations, adding that he was hopeful the union would have the impasse resolved.
Others were far more caustic.
“We tired a di go round and come round, the foolish practices? We can’t take that no more. We taking promises too long! We a suffer!” remarked one demonstrator.
Robert Clarke, of the revenue recovery department at the NWC, told The Gleaner that he knows of at least nine of his colleagues who have died while awaiting the payment of their benefits.
“Why the poor people dem have to go through these struggle? Why when we fi get our tings dem, we can’t get it?” he asked.
“It’s a sore point inna we life right now.”
Workers have also reported being owed outstanding uniform allowances.
WITH HOTEL occupancy now running between 50-70 per cent in the resort town of Negril, tourism stakeholders are on standby to source alternative supplies of water for their operations.
Richard Wallace, president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce, says if the strike is allowed to continue over 72 hours, it could force hoteliers into “a nightmare of trucking water”.
“It is not something we can survive for long,” Wallace said in a Gleaner interview on Tuesday.
“If it continues we will have to resolve through trucking water, which is a difficult and expensive operation.”
The industrial action by the NWC workers has left both residential and commercial customers contemplating survival strategies.
“Without water, we are dead,” Wallace argued, while noting that tourism interests in Westmoreland are keenly watching the developments.
He said most hotels should have storage capacity but smaller properties would be more susceptible to a prolonged stalemate.
“For example, my system can only carry me for around three days,” Wallace said of his Broadwalk Village property.
Bishop Oneal Russell, president of the Coke Street Citizens’ Association in Savanna-la-Mar, described the strike as a national disgrace.
“The workers should not have to strike to be compensated properly for their work, not when these utility companies are making so much money,” Russell said.
The bishop also expressed concern that the supply of water into the Coke Street community is very low.
Residents who live in uptown Savanna-la-Mar are equally concerned.
“That would be devastating for us,” said Lyndon Johnson, president of the Grotto Community Development Committee and Benevolent Society.
ST ANN & ST MARY
With the National Water Commission’s (NWC) Bogue treatment plant at Dunn’s River in St Ann out of service, thousands of residents in St Ann and St Mary saw disruption in their water supply on Tuesday.
The strike action also impacted the tourism sector.
Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President Clifton Reader said he is hoping for an early resolution to the industrial action to avoid further disruption in the tourism sector.
Reader said larger hotels would have storage capabilities that could serve for several days but feared that smaller operators may be more vulnerable.
Amid reports that sections of Norman Manley Boulevard were impacted, Reader said his hotel, the massive 705-room Moon Palace in Ocho Rios, was immune from immediate fallout.
“I spoke with the chairman of the Water Commission (Michael Shaw) and the president (Mark Barnett) and they are busy working with the unions to try and avert any effect,” Reader said.
Meanwhile, several small hotel operators in St Ann were forced to start trucking water on Tuesday.
“We hope it’s going to be settled immediately because of course it’s going to have a negative impact on us,” Vana Taylor, chairperson for the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Ocho Rios Runaway Bay Chapter, told The Gleaner.
Concern is also being raised about the supply of water to cruise ships, which usually refill in Ocho Rios.
Carnival Horizon, with a capacity of 6,400, docked in Ocho Rios on Tuesday as the town experienced low water pressure, with some areas reporting no supply at all.
But according to tourism stakeholder John Byles, cruise ships are usually equipped with desalinators and they take a limited supply of drinking water then they dock.
Parish manager of the National Water Commission (NWC), Richard Williams, reported that all major facilities were down in Portland.
Williams, who spoke The Gleaner via telephone, said that businesses, schools, health facilities, and residences in major townships and beyond were affected by the industrial action.
With several hotels, hospitals, and schools, beginning to reel from the effects of the strike, Williams said there was uncertainty as to when normality might return.
“There is no water at the loading bay to be trucked, so trucking water at this time is basically impossible,” said Williams.
Water-treatment facilities that were shut down in Portland included Grants Level, Kensington, Charles Town, Turtle Crawl, Hope Bay, and Packy River.
Meantime, Commanding officer for the Portland Police Division, Superintendent Kenneth Chin, indicated that they are not yet impacted by the strike action taken by NWC workers, as they (the police stations) are equipped with storage tanks, but with limited capacity. He was quick to point, however, that if the strike goes on for a next day or two, they could be adversely affected by the absence of piped water.
Photo shows a look at the Grants Level water treatment in the Rio Grande of Portland, which is down as a result of strike action taken by NWC workers.