Editorial

It can no longer be rain, rain go away...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013    

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WE thank Opposition Senator Dr Christopher Tufton for raising in the legislature the importance of rainwater harvesting.

Like Dr Tufton, we are convinced that rainwater harvesting is critical to Jamaica's water management. We also share his view that new housing developments should, by law, be supported by rainwater-harvesting capacity, as that, we hold, would contribute significantly to the simple conservation measures that the National Water Commission (NWC) says can save up to 30 per cent of water used in a household.

Dr Tufton, who tabled a motion on the matter in the Upper House two Fridays ago, makes a very important point in his argument that millions of taxpayer dollars are spent each year "to mitigate against the adverse impact of drought through a range of water provision activities".

He also pointed to projections by experts that freshwater resources will come under increasing pressure in the future due to population increases and global warming, which is easily — and hardly anyone doubts this anymore — one of the biggest threats to human existence.

It's no secret that Jamaica is vulnerable to drought, and there are a number of reasons for that. Among them are urbanisation leading to increased demand for water; inadequate water storage at the national level; and our heavy reliance on agriculture.

We are still trying to fathom why our governments have not given priority to establishing effective systems to reduce the effects of drought on the country. It's not as if the problem is new, for in our research on this issue we came across a story in The New York Times reporting on drought in Jamaica.

Essentially it read in part: "The island is at present suffering from one of the severest droughts experienced during recent years, one of the most serious results of which is the failing of the water supply in Kingston.

"The rivers are already exceedingly low, obliging the water commissioners to lock off the city supply during 18 hours in every 24."

Readers, we are sure, will gasp at the fact that this story was published in the newspaper's July 12, 1899 edition.

On reading it, we recalled the analogy of the man who bought a pint of milk while he was single, but continued to do so after getting married, and even after he and his wife started having children.

In March 2010, we put forward the suggestion that the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, given its record of accessing social assistance money, could help in the construction of water storage tanks for schools and communities. We had also offered the view that the Government could provide a boost for private tank building through tax incentives and other measures.

These views are as relevant today as when we first advocated them. We encourage the Government to give them serious thought and implement them. For, as we said in this space three years ago, even with the most intense of public education campaigns, appealing to people's sense of duty to conserve will not result in a wholesale solution to the water shortage problem we experience during times of drought, as there are many people who will ignore the messages and continue to do as they please.

Most of the information we have reviewed suggests that rainwater-harvesting systems are not costly. But even if they were, the benefits of having them would far outweigh the price the country will pay to correct the effects of inaction.

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