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Study makes case for improved wastewater management in Jamaica

Published:Wednesday | September 30, 2015 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor

With the climate threat to Jamaica’s freshwater resources exacerbated by pollution, there is an urgent call to action for improved wastewater management on the island.

And this, not only in the interest of water security but also public health, as reflected in the December 2013 “National Baseline Assessment Study on Wastewater Management for Jamaica”.

"The main sources of water pollution in Jamaica are: inadequate sewage disposal, soil erosion and agricultural and industrial discharges. Surface water is more susceptible to contamination and is used to transport waste from industrial complexes and human settlements,” reveals the study, which was revised in January 2015.

The reality of that pollution and the associated improper management of solid and liquid waste is seen, it advanced, in the existing range of vector-borne diseases, from chikungunya to dengue, malaria (spread by mosquitoes) and leptospirosis (spread by rodents).

"The high content of nitrates and phosphates in wastewater (raw, partially treated and treated) causes massive growth of vegetation mats in gullies and streams, converting them into mosquito breeding sites and increasing the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases,” explained the report on the study, done under the Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (CReW) project of the United Nations Environment Programme-Caribbean Regional Coordinating Unit.

“Also, flooding caused by the presence of these mats eliminates natural breeding sites of rodents forcing them to migrate to surrounding homes in search of food, potentially causing leptospirosis,” it added.

At the same time, increased temperatures associated with climate change will mean, among other things, that “the number of showers per person per day is likely to increase in many places and consequently the amount of water for laundry. This would bring an increase in the amount of greywater generated in each household”.

Further, the report on the study - prepared by Dr Homero Silva - said: “The coastal area has been prioritised because of its low‐lying state, the population concentration in this zone, the level of infrastructural development, and the range of economic activities occurring there. Therefore, it is expected that sanitation infrastructure (sewer lines, latrines and septic tanks) will be affected, increasing the amount of wastewater and excreta in contact with both groundwater and the sea.”

The situation is one that warrants, according to the study, consolidation of  “all sanitation legislation into one comprehensive act that will address all aspects of sanitation services consistent with the LBS Protocol (Protocol Concerning Pollution from Land-based Sources and Activities)”.

The LBS Protocol is a regional mechanism that helps UN member states in the Wider Caribbean Region to meet the goals and obligations of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Global Plan of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities (GPA).

UNCLOS calls for countries to adopt laws and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from land-based sources while the GPA highlights the need for action to reduce the pollutant load to the seas from land-based sources and activities.

Meanwhile, to combat the pollution and associated challenges, the study also identifies the need to:
-conduct proper planning to guarantee the timely delivery of interventions in the sector, “especially to identify and share responsibilities among stakeholders, reduce costs, reduce energy consumption and make the best use of available materials and human resources”;
- strengthen the human resources capabilities, both in terms of number and qualifications of the Environmental Health Unit and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA); and
- expand the analytical capacity of NEPA and Environmental Health Laboratory to carry out chemical organic analysis and analysis of pesticides, pharmaceutical waste and heavy metals.
- Support the review, socialisation and use of the Manual for Minimum Requirements for Waste Water Treatment Systems and Excreta Management in Jamaica.

Critically, the report said that there is need, too, to “place more attention on sanitation”.

”Sanitation continues to remain a neglected portfolio. Progress in sanitation should be accelerated and will require a concerted effort at national and local levels to accelerate the progress,” noted the study, which forms a part of a regional assessment for the Wider Caribbean Region.

“Good sanitation is achievable if supported by the right set of policies, targeted technical assistance, institutional capacity, adequate funding, and strong political commitment and community engagement,” it added.