Stave off wa­ter ri­ots

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

JA­MAICA’S UR­BAN wa­ter-sup­ply cri­sis in the south­east is leg­endary, but the un­fold­ing dilemma of dys­func­tion and in­com­pe­tence, not only ow­ing to the cul­pa­bil­ity of the Na­tional Wa­ter Com­mis­sion (NWC), is un­ac­cept­able.

The rit­ual hand-wring­ing with ev­ery drought cy­cle has not wrought in­ter­ven­tion be­yond a re­stat­ing of the ob­vi­ous: the over­silt­ing of dams, the fail­ure to build a new reser­voir for the bal­loon­ing city, the lack of trac­tion on re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing con­tam­i­nated wells, thus tap­ping into rich aquifers. It goes on and on.

Mark Bar­nett, the NWC’s pres­i­dent, is fully aware of the so­lu­tions, but has not pro­vided a time­line for their achieve­ment.

If any­thing, the only real progress the com­mis­sion has made is on the in­stal­la­tion of state-of-the-art me­ters and the over­haul of age­ing, leak­ing un­der­ground mains un­der the Non-Rev­enue Wa­ter Re­duc­tion Pro­gramme.

But re­cently, the rash of pipe­line breaks on the re­con­struc­tion works along the Man­dela High­way sig­ni­fies a deficit in in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal pro­ject man­age­ment that has not only been em­bar­rass­ing, but ex­pen­sive. Crew­men work­ing for China Har­bour En­gi­neer­ing Com­pany have re­peat­edly busted pipe­lines in the prox­im­ity of Tom Cringle Drive, flood­ing the in­ter­parish road­way and caus­ing mul­ti­ple traf­fic snarls. The bill, when com­pre­hen­sively as­sessed, runs into bil­lions of dol­lars.

It is thus log­i­cal to con­clude that gross in­ep­ti­tude and a lack of in­ter-agency co­or­di­na­tion are at the root of the se­ries of mis­steps. If not, it would mean that the con­trac­tors are a bunch of rogues op­er­at­ing on whim and with frolic. For there is no ev­i­dence that the hand knows what the foot is do­ing.

Amid the chaos, the NWC has re­neged on its as­sur­ances to sup­ply scores of Cor­po­rate Area com­mu­ni­ties on al­ter­nate days, stok­ing anger and frus­tra­tion. The up­shot is that there are some neigh­bour­hoods that have had neg­li­gi­ble amounts or no wa­ter for days, if not weeks, which presents a threat to pub­lic clean­li­ness, hy­giene and health.

The ap­palling sup­ply short­ages and non­per­for­mance of the NWC have dan­ger­ous con­se­quences, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing food prepa­ra­tion. With in­ad­e­quate ac­cess to clean wa­ter, homes and food-re­lated busi­nesses are more prone to cut­ting cor­ners by ig­nor­ing best prac­tices.

There have been grave fi­nan­cial ram­i­fi­ca­tions as well. Com­pa­nies highly de­pen­dent on wa­ter as an in­put of pro­duc­tion have had to be spend­ing mul­ti­ples more on pri­vately sourced wa­ter, erod­ing bot­tom lines be­cause of the com­mis­sion’s un­re­li­a­bil­ity.

If the NWC does not get its act to­gether soon, it may not be able stave off wa­ter ri­ots by the thirsty and un­washed masses.

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