Desperate for water

St Ann communities worried as drought worsens

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Observer staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 23, 2018

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After more than 50 years without piped water, the residents of Lower Buxton and Middle Buxton, two communities in St Ann, have grown accustomed to harvesting rainwater.

However, the current drought affecting the island is making them worried about their health and ability to make a living from farming.

“Right now we nuh have no water. When rain nah fall is problems as the toilet can't flush,” Paul Brown, a resident of Lower Buxton for the past 59 years, told the Jamaica Observer during a visit to the community last week.

“We have to depend on rainfall. That mash up. It has been three months since we planted yam, and all now dem cyaan come up. Usually the yam tek a month and a half before you see it on the stick,” he said.

“Right through to Charlton, Alexandria — no pipe water. We just rely on tanks and the rainwater. Green Hill, Higgins Land, Nine Mile — no running water. The pipe at Orange Hill, right now there is no water in it, so we have to go down to the pump house by Minnards. If election was near maybe we would see a difference,” Brown said.

However, he expressed great doubt that even an election would lead to an ease in the community's discomfort. “Too much things gwaan for me to believe that. The pipe dem woulda haffi drop from sky,” he said.

Further within the parish, a rocky road took the Observer to Middle Buxton, where the complaint was no different. In fact, the residents have even more difficulties as the roads there are extremely poor.

“The bad roads slow up business; no taxi nuh come up here as you can hardly drive on the road,” Leonard Clarke, a resident for over 30 years, said. “On top of that we have it hard; only rain time we have the water. When the rain not coming we at zero, and have to ask our neighbours. What is in the outside tank we can only use for washing. Mi have a strong feeling say things will get done. It tough, but in God we trust.”

Another resident, Verna Turner, explained that the water she has stored cannot be consumed.

“We can only clean and wash with it, we cannot drink it. Children are here and we have to be mindful of them,” Turner said.

Carl Wray, who has been living in Middle Buxton for the past 45 years, said the water problem is perpetual.

“It was like that before my birth, and it is like that years after. Majority of the houses here have tanks and are dependent on harvested water. It has become the norm, but there is hardly any rain,” Wray lamented.

He also said that accessing water can sometimes be expensive.

“I remember buying one load of water three years ago for $7,000 — that was during a long period of drought. Not many can afford to do that. Drinking water is about $300 per gallon; sometimes we have to purchase the litre, and that will finish in no time. Luckily we don't live bad around here. When I am going for water I will tell others to bring their jugs. I am anticipating a change; we pay our taxes, so for an amenity like water we need to benefit,” he said.

Wray also bemoaned the conditions of the road leading to his community.

“The roads affect motorists badly. I went to the garage recently and had to pay $35,000 to repair my front end, and that is a four-wheel drive. Every community leading to Brown's Town have bad roads. People have to walk all the way up into the district because taxis won't travel up,” he said.

Dr Dayton Campbell, Member of Parliament (MP) for St Ann North Western, in responding to the concerns of his constituents, said the constituency has approximately 20 per cent access to piped water, but it is something he is trying to improve on in several of the communities.

“We have made representation for several of these communities to have extensions. Some are close to wells, so it is easy to have an extension, while for others they will have to develop a system, [whereby] communities need to dig a well. Some of them have already dug a well and it is just to get it operational to improve the access to potable water. The communities [you] visited are part of that developmental plan,” he said.

However, Dr Campbell pointed out the expected turnover of these projects is based on how the Government allocates resources.

“When you pay taxes you don't pay it to the MP, you pay it to the Government, and therefore it is an unrealistic expectation that the MP alone can come and initiate these projects without the Government making the allocations. The difficulty I currently have is that I am not a member of the governing party and funds are operated in such a way that there is no equal access to what is present there, and it is almost impossible to get any infrastructural programmes done,” Dr Campbell said.

“The only funds I have access to, really and truly, over the last two-and-a-half years, would have been the Constituency Development Fund, which is $20 million, and as you would imagine that cannot do any major infrastructural programmes,” he said.

Regarding the road conditions, Dr Campbell said the same applies and made reference to the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme, which was implemented by his political party when it last formed the Government and which provided funds that aided roadworks.

“We used to use that to do one road in each constituency, but right now we are unable to do so; the current Administration has not provided any allocation, and they have totally disregarded that programme,” he said.

He said he would continue to make representation to the Government on behalf of his constituents.

“We all pay taxes to the Government, including the residents of North West St Ann; therefor, we don't think that the Government allocation should be based on partisan affiliation, because that's not how the taxes are paid. They are paid by every member of society; who are part of a political party and those who are not a part of a political party who are also in need of the service,” he said.

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