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EDITORIAL - Solving Jamaica's water problems

Published:Saturday | July 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Another year, another water crisis. This cycle has become so predictable that the National Water Commission's (NWC) slogan, 'Water is Life', has been rendered meaningless to many Jamaicans.

The lack of water has a deleterious effect on the quality of life, for not only can it cause various diseases, especially among the young and elderly, but it contributes to poor sanitation and hygiene, and affects production.

Listening to the various officials talking about the current situation, it all comes down to insufficient rainfall. But is that really the truth? There are many modern societies where the intake of water is less than desired, but they never seem to be short of water for basic domestic needs.

Like most crises, it is the poorest in society that are most affected. Those who can afford it have installed multi-gallon-capacity tanks so they can enjoy a steady flow of water despite restrictions and rationing. And even in good times, there are many communities in Jamaica where there is no running water.

Successive governments have not been able to find a sustainable solution to the water problems that confront the country year after year. But wait! The NWC has finally spouted an idea in the debate about how to deal with the perennial water crisis. Its vice-president, Mark Blair, announced at a Jamaica House press conference this week that it will begin working to restore underground wells in the Corporate Area next year to boost the water supply. He estimates that these wells could bring an additional 30 days of water supply into the Kingston Metropolitan Area.

According to Blair, "We have to have mitigating measures and contingency plans to deal with the lack of rainfall, and the best solution in our minds is to go to the groundwater." We agree and wonder why it has taken so long for the NWC to come to this understanding.

TIME TO GET CRACKING

Wells are a costly investment, and the most efficient ones are dug rather deeply, but this is a sustainable source of water. We urge the NWC to move speedily to get this project on the way and help ease the annual scramble and anxiety for the precious commodity. The desilting of the near century-old Hermitage Dam is a project that is also long overdue.

But the greatest stress over the lack of water must lie with the country's farmers, who are expected to raise domestic production in the face of a weakening currency that results in more money flowing out to pay for imports.

Here's where the argument of the International Monetary Fund about righting the value of the currency to increase competitiveness faces a challenge: If the farmers are unable to produce, the answer is to import more to satisfy local demand. Onions, tomatoes, carrots, and other produce will soon dry up. And with the dire predictions by meteorological official Jeffrey Spooner that the effects of the current drought will be felt well into 2015, what hope is there for buoyancy in agriculture?

The rot that has set in at the NWC is symptomatic of many other public-sector entities where poor leadership and limited strategies are weighing heavily on the country. Whether we want to admit it or not, these are major obstacles to our economic development.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.