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EDITORIAL - Amid crisis, poor water management

Published:Saturday | March 27, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Trucking water has become a booming business in recent times as people try to grapple with the reality of dry taps all across the southern belt of the island. Rural folks are long accustomed to drought; however, water scarcity in urban areas has never been this severe.

After weeks without the precious commodity, many people have been forced to fork out substantial sums of $5,000 to $20,000 to buy water. The integrity of this water is questionable because the purchaser cannot be sure of the source of the water and whether it is properly treated.

Despite the acute drought, there is water available, but the problem appears to lie in the distribution. There is, at present, no equitable distribution of the resource among users in a given location. Some communities within the Kingston Metropolitan Area always have water in their pipes, some householders get water twice a week, others only once. There are the unfortunates who have had no water in weeks. So, apart from the inequitable allocation of water, some NWC customers complain of the unpredictable nature of their supply.

Hairdressers, barbers, restaurant operators are all expressing distress about the lack of water. Buying water will only place them in a more precarious financial position at this time of slim margins and declining demand for services.

Low grade for NWC

The National Water Commission gets a low grade for its management of the crisis. Customers should be kept abreast of the schedule and any householder should be able to call a hotline and get information about plans to truck water to their area or details about lock-off schedules. As it is now, it is a guessing game and the NWC customer-service personnel cannot be relied on to convey the truth to callers.

Resource experts have predicted that the next war will be fought over freshwater supply. And the NWC is constantly reminding us that "water is life". Whether the water is being used for agriculture, industry or domestic purposes, it remains a most critical resource.

Frustration has reached fever pitch among householders, small-business operators and farmers because the crisis has worsened over the last few weeks. Jamaicans are known to be very good at adopting coping skills in a crisis. It is, therefore, not surprising to hear the NWC reporting theft of water, damage of hydrants and valves in an attempt by the wily and unscrupulous to salvage water. We believe this will intensify in the days ahead unless the NWC is able to manage the situation.

The answer to the island's water problems cannot be solved when the next rain comes; instead, it requires responsible long-term policy management which has to include ways of expanding the water supply, including desalination, waste-water reuse and plugging leaks.

Do we dare hope that the much-touted Jamaica Water Supply Improvement Project will bring about the promised restructuring of the island's water supply?

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