Rural water supply row

Opposition spokesman on agriculture and water Lothan Cousins has chided the Government for what he claims is a lack of focus on getting reliable potable water to rural communities, despite indications from the minister in charge of rural development, Desmond McKenzie, that million will be spent to further tackle the problem this year.

Making his presentation in the Sectoral Debate on Tuesday, Cousins argued that the National Water Commission (NWC) is not sufficiently focused on improving water supply to rural communities.

“The main objective of the water portfolio is to provide access of all Jamaicans to reliable and potable water supply. I believe, therefore, that any approach taken by the NWC, in this regard, must be balanced and take into account both rural and urban areas,” said Cousins.

“The current focus… is imbalanced, as the major projects for the 2021/22 financial year focus on the Corporate Area. This is unfortunate as there should also be some emphasis on the provision of water to remote rural communities which have been under served and, in some instances, starved for decades,” added Cousins.

He pointed out that the capital budget set out in the Public Bodies Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2021-2022 shows a preponderance of capital projects in the urban centres.

The charge by Cousins came shortly after McKenzie, the minister of local government and rural development, had told the House that his ministry will be spending $325 million to provide water to rural communities across the country this year.

In his presentation in the Sectoral Debate also on Tuesday, McKenzie announced that $215 million will be spent to complete projects that will benefit some 20,000 people in communities in St Catherine, St Ann, Clarendon, St Elizabeth, Portland and St James.

He said that the ministry will also set aside $110 million to construct water shops under the Rural Development Programme.

McKenzie also announced that work has been completed on the Platfield water supply system in St Mary, which includes house connections to Mount Vernon and Clarke Castle, as well as a loading bay to serve Border and surrounding communities.

“Rural Water Supply Limited also installed water supply systems in over 22 communities in eight parishes and now, over 33,000 people are enjoying vastly improved water supply as a result of the work of the rural water agency,” said McKenzie, who noted that the agency also installed catchment and black tanks in several communities.

In the meantime, Cousins charged that despite its urban focus, the NWC is still struggling to get a consistent water supply to some sections of the Corporate Area.

“In the Corporate Area, though, the pipes are being replaced and repaired on Spanish Town Road and other areas, the KMA (Kingston Metropolitan Area) continue to suffer from a lack of water whenever there are extended periods of drought or water restrictions. This suggests that our capacity for storage of water needs improvement,” charged Cousins.

He told the Parliament that an immediate and full reassessment of the Mona Reservoir and Hermitage Dam is needed with a view to determine their current status, to examine whether there is need for more raw water storage and to implement a plan to expand where necessary.

“The population has grown over the years and the NWC’s ability to adequately serve the KMA is dwindling,” declared Cousins.

“Many studies, including the Survey of Living Conditions consistently identify the lack of reliable drinking water supplied by NWC as a major issue. The resources available for rural water supply, the resources available for minor water supplies at the municipal corporations as well as those available for trucking are all woefully inadequate.”

The Opposition spokesman pointed to the 2019 National Water Sector Policy and Implementation Plan which he noted is the main policy guide and action plan for the Government to ensure access to potable water and argued that after two years, there needs to be an assessment to determine if the targets and improved service arrangements are being met.

“The ministry, which has overall responsibility for the water sector policy, should be conducting this review because… the availability of water remains one of the main causes for Jamaica’s social problems,” Cousins added.

He said the Opposition is also concerned that there has been no significant move concerning the private sector’s involvement in water irrigation and sewage services in Jamaica.

“Water requires more investment and greater policy attention as it appears to be lost in the great jungle of the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job creation with no one being charged with responsibility for this crucial portfolio responsibility,” declared Cousins.

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