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High-priced water & a tank full of germs

Published:Wednesday | April 14, 2010 | 12:00 AM

People in my neck of the woods have settled into the weekly routine of buying high-priced water to fill our tanks. Our choices were limited since we essentially haven't had water (from the National Water Commission, NWC) in our taps since last November.

It took us a little while to realise that we were fighting a losing battle with the NWC. Numerous telephone calls to their customer service department and Water Production Unit saw our names being placed on some kind of 'pretend list' for 'urgent' trucking of water. The precious liquid was never trucked, and certainly there's no urgency by NWC to do so, though we know we are in the midst of a serious drought. The NWC's 'pretend list' must be like their 'pretend schedule' for daily water supply because my community never does see water in our taps, even when scheduled.

Private water truckers

We do, however, still receive a monthly water bill. My last bill was estimated (it had to be, since there is no NWC water in my tap) and it was actually higher than my usual bills. But I suppose we shouldn't complain because even in normal times (when there is no drought) my community and others in St Andrew don't usually receive water in our taps 24 hours a day, though a national water company exists.

So here come the private water-trucking companies to our rescue. But, we continue to keep up the pretence that all these companies are bringing us clean, potable water. I happened to be at home one day when a private water truck was on my avenue. I struck up a conversation with one of the side men.

"So where do you get your water?" I asked.

"Nice lady, this water cleaner than NWC water. We get it from one underground well and then we put it in another area and treat it. It cleaner than NWC water," he bragged, beaming with pride.

"All right then, " I thought. "Sounds like a tank full of germs. Lucky thing I have the bad habit of drinking bottled water."

Make water safe

I would've thought that the public-health machinery would have already kicked in to start certifying and labelling water sources and these water trucks which are now booming down the streets all over Kingston and St Andrew. but, as consumers, let's protect our health.

The moral of the story is that since we know that bacteria and other germs are not visible to the naked eye, make it standard procedure to treat water, especially the one in your tanks or other containers at home, if you intend to use it for drinking, making ice, washing fruits and vegetables, making drink, preparing food and for washing dishes and other kitchen utensils.

Public-health professionals say that we can treat water by adding two drops of bleach per litre (or quart) of water; eight drops of bleach per five litres (or one gallon) of water or half-teaspoon of bleach per 50 litres (or five gallons) of water. Mix the bleach in the water and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before using. For the large black, plastic tanks of water, perhaps it's a good idea to ask your pharmacist or public-health department about chlorine tablets. Water can also be disinfected by bringing it to a boil and then allowing it to boil for five minutes.

Millennium Development Goals

It is because the experts recognise the importance of safe water and basic sanitation as preconditions to reducing morbidity and mortality rates and the link between poverty and poor health and unsafe water and sanitation that providing clean water for the world population is among the Millennium Development Goals, goals which Jamaica and the rest of the world have committed to achieve.

Under Goal 7 - Ensure Environmental Sustainability — Target 10 is to "halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation; and Target 11 - "have achieved, by 2020, a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers".

The World Health Organisation indicates that every year there are 1.6 million diarrhoeal deaths related to unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene - the vast majority of the deaths are among children under five. In Jamaica, we are already seeing a 30 per cent increase in gastro-enteritis cases, easily spread through dirty water and dirty hands.

Eulalee Thompson is health editor and a professional counsellor; email: eulalee.thompson@gleanerjm.com.