I keep going back to the concepts of planning, cross-Ministries action (joined up government), and progress outside of crisis action. These conditions are necessary for dealing with recurrent problems, whether or not these are occurring at the specific moment.
These governmental measures also apply to the private sector and the failure of systems such as clearing trees from power lines, building resilient systems for communications outside of the hurricane season, repairing roofs in the dry season, patching small potholes before they contribute to costly total reconstruction, clearing garbage before infestation and disease strikes the population.
Currently, the best example of this irrational and misguided inaction approach is the supply of water during what is predicted to be a long period of drought. What we used to call “dry season” has rapidly changed from an understandable and predictable climatic condition in Jamaica, into highly unpredictable extremes.
As a child I learned little songs about June to November (hurricane season), April rains, and later, convectional rain and trade winds. This even influenced sports at school. We played cricket in the dry season, football in the wet season, and track in the moderate season, and these coincided with the school terms. At that time there was fair predictability, and less dependence on piped water, and people were forced to prepare.
Houses had cisterns, rivers were used, hillsides had catchments, standpipes had water, rainwater was collected by gutters and stored in drums, and conservation was a way of life. Houses were spread out, allowing for greater capacity of being sustainable at low density occupancy. This was replaced by high rise buildings that raised the density of people in each development to a level that made catchment of rainfall totally inadequate for sustaining those communities/schemes in time of severe drought.
Public water collection and storage have not been significantly increased in keeping with population growth, density considerations, and rural areas that are uneconomical to supply totally piped water supplies to legitimate homes and squatter communities. Aquifers seemed to be threatened by deforestation and climate change. This is what requires some thought going forward. Special arrangements need to be made in order to tackle remote areas, and this is where considerable measures to regularize these situations outside of the emergency times are necessary.
The planning and execution of such a plan is fairly simple, but its implementation is complicated by two main problem areas. Firstly, the methods of allocating funds to specific agencies (including NWC, Local Government parish networks, and the NWA) encourage them to have money in silos that never cooperate cost effectively in solving widespread challenges.
Secondly, the word maintenance does not exist in our Jamaican language, and this could be a major impediment to effective action, particularly to haulage and distribution.
In the first instance, there needs to be a unit dedicated to water supply. This requires the following:
- NWC putting community tanks that can hold at least 5 truckloads of water.
- The NWA must keep access roads to the tanks in good repair.
- Trucking fleets need to pull water tanks that are containers of various sizes appropriate to specific areas, access and volume requirements that have been pre-filled with treated water thus reducing waiting time for filling.
- Using containers reduces the waiting time for road heads and increases their efficiency and maximizes water delivery.
- Road heads and tank containers need to adhere to proper maintenance schedules and this will lead to greater usage.
- Drivers need to be incentivized on number of deliveries, driving practices, abuse of alcohol, ganja, and other drugs.
- Specific allocations to the unit need to be made as this will be a year round operation, and will save the emergency funds related to water, and the lack of trucks to deliver (as is happening now).
- The trucks could be offered year round work and could be a public/private investment.
This practice has been the method of distribution of food, construction materials, agricultural produce, and sugarcane for over a century. It works for those industries, so why not for water?
It does not require a super ministry, or a complicated methodology. It simply requires a “hard to corrupt” system that could be run by a private sector company that would protect its own contract by easily measured data and inspection.
The only drawback is that it would reduce the political squabbling to distribute scarce commodities in exchange for political loyalty. “Water is life” they say, so let us put some focus into its distribution. This is a supply logistics problem, not an electoral campaign. This needs to be 23/7/365 in order to be efficient and save the taxpayers a lot of money.
The big question is whether the politicians are ready to cede this authority to a non-political entity?