Thu | Jun 8, 2023

Water security bolstering human resilience in drought-hit Clarendon

Published:Friday | April 9, 2021 | 12:08 AM

Davia Johnson Newman, principal of the Alston Primary and Infant School in Clarendon.
Davia Johnson Newman, principal of the Alston Primary and Infant School in Clarendon.

Brand new and rehabilitated water-harvesting systems are now serving several districts, small farms, and schools in northern Clarendon, equipping thousands of residents against the threats of climate change, disease and poverty, under an innovative project designed to bolster human resilience.

The project is actively demonstrating access to water as a key to strengthening resilience of vulnerable communities in northern Clarendon and west Kingston against the threats of climate change, poverty and food insecurity.

Community water-harvesting systems have been rehabilitated in the districts of Mount Airy and Culloden, serving a combined population of approximately 3,000, as well as at four primary schools, serving hundreds of students and their teachers. In addition, 20 small farmers are now in possession of brand-new water-harvesting equipment that is delivering water to crops in times of drought, a World Water Day Live Showcase hosted by the United Nations Development Programme Multi Country Office in Jamaica was informed late last month.

The farm irrigation system is a gift, which is reversing crops losses due to extended drought, declares Euxan Smith, farmer and president of the Mount Airy Farmers Group.

“We are planting less but reaping more. I now plant half the area, but reaping twice the amount, while harvesting more crops, with more weight over a longer time with more weekly income,” he said..

Smith attributes the turn around to the drip system and the sustainable agricultural methods taught under the project.

“It was never like that before. Farmers are saying it’s the way to go, and that if we had more rainfall, we could reap another 200 per cent.”

Principals like Davia Johnson Newman of Alston Primary and Infant School praised the intervention at recent handing over ceremonies.

“As a result of the catchment system, the school has not been without water [for a while],” she reports. “We are now able to accommodate up to 6,800 gallons of water. This is important to us, especially since we are now utilising more water on a daily basis in our sanitization and cleaning efforts.

“Prior to this support we had a temporary handwashing facility, which was simply a bucket with a pipe attached. Today, we are pleased to have a permanent facility for proper handwashing,” says Johnson Newman.

Access to water helps build resilience to the threats of climate change, disease and poverty, explains Eltha Brown, national coordinator of the joint United Nations-Government of Jamaica project, which had its water-harvesting infrastructure financed under a US$1.7 million grant from the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, with counterpart contributions of approximately US$4.8 million from the Government of Jamaica and implementing partners. The project is piloting the globally renowned human security approach in Jamaica to bolster the resilience of vulnerable communities against economic, environmental, and social threats.

Brown emphasised that the project has the Government’s full backing and support, which comes in the form of some US$2.9 million in parallel financing along with technical support.

The project is addressing several insecurities identified in a strategic threat mapping exercise, she outlined. In response to threats identified – such as personal, climate change, economic, food and water insecurities – the project is putting resources behind strengthening community groups to build their own local resilience; climate-smart and sustainable-agriculture practices to beat climate change and poverty, community based social enterprises for income security targeting unattached youth and women; and improved water security.

To small farmers in these hilly Clarendon districts experiencing diminishing rainfall, being able to collect, store and channel rainwater as and when needed is a resilience-booster, and a breakthrough for food security. Jamaica’s Social and Economic Survey 2018 underscores why this approach is necessary: Jamaica’s average annual rainfall was below the 30-year mean for most parishes, and there have been 20 more incidents of normal drought and eight more incidences of severe drought than the previous year.

“Infrastructure was complemented with training in various aspects of sustainable agriculture by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), which served to broaden awareness of farmers to available seeds, types and use of chemicals and fertilisers as well as establishment and monitoring of nurseries,” Brown points out, adding that RADA continues to provide participating farmers with technical support, including marketing assistance.

Ms Brown said the project will also be taking steps to demonstrate water treatment systems in the participating communities incorporating techniques of recycled water. It is hoped that other communities and donor partners will see the benefits of these systems and upscale and replicate across Jamaica, she confirmed.

Started in 2018, the Strengthening Human Resilience in Northern Clarendon and West Kingston is regarded as the first joint programme of United Nations Jamaica, combining the resources of six UN Jamaica members, namely – FAO, PAHO/WHO, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UN Women – in addition to the UNDP-implemented Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme.

This article was contributed by the United Nations Development Programme.