Although we live in a small country of less than 5,000 sq. miles, and many onlookers would be tempted to accept a view of homogeneity, to do so would be a great mistake for this our island home, Jamaica. The collective descriptions and positioning belie those adopted sayings such as “land of wood and water”; “out of many one people”. Those were slogans focused on a single action point or fulcrum, designed for balance and levelling the playing field to a common denominator.
However, based on many variations of those themes we are forced to question their validity, and decide on alternatives that will redefine us going forward. The land of wood and water today is threatened by an increased demand for both; a dwindling supply; and a failure to conserve and replenish.
Certainly we have reserves of both, but in the case of trees they are susceptible to the slash and burn mentality that followed the ancient practice of hunting and gathering. Primitive systems that had been abandoned centuries ago when human evolution rapidly increased today form a part of our hillside agricultural pursuits. At the same time, we speak glibly about food security and make it the Holy Grail of our sustainable existence without estimating the wisdom or profitability of these utterances. Perhaps it is an advantage that we talk more than we implement.
Water resources are plentiful but they seem to be in the wrong places. Underground resources (aquifers and rivers) seem adequate but feed the north coast more efficiently than the southern parts of our island. So we face an engineering challenge in designing and implementing the conveyance systems for water.
We have schools of engineering, hydrology, business, and other supporting related sciences and business that should be able and expected to carry out these functions. But instead of employing those skills we either leave them unemployed, or doing little productive work in bureaucratic pursuits that solve no problems.
I hate to think that we would do the very same thing if we discovered oil. We would leave it to Exxon and others to engineer and exploit, and merely reap a few dollars for the few empowered in supervising corruption. In the cases of natural raw materials such as bauxite and alumina; gold; aggregates; maritime resources; and rare earth metals; we have been totally inept and failed to deliver value. We have lost fortunes of our natural resources and we the locals have nothing to show for those debacles.
So let us have a census of unemployed or under-utilized engineers, skilled technicians, site managers, project managers, quantity surveyors, architects, supply chain managers, and get going with employing our own. No party hacks, just competent Jamaicans.
This is by no means an original idea, and was described as the Roosevelt plan following the Great Depression that started in 1929. Put our own people to work. The only limitation that we face is the view of our high levels of corruption that manifest themselves in every area of our lives that discourage investors. Thus we defeat ourselves as the defenders of wood and water from the land of “out of many”.
We really need some strong reflections on our own self-inflicted wounds.