KINGSTON: Water Minister Robert Pickersgill has warned Jamaicans to brace for worsening drought conditions as the dry spell continues.
In an address to the nation last Sunday, Pickersgill said the inflows into several large reservoirs were well below normal and the country did not receive the usual amount of rainfall for the months of May and June.
“Fellow Jamaicans, this is a challenge, and it is one that is made worse by higher temperatures and windy conditions, that provide the perfect combination for bush fires, which, given the present water shortage, will be difficult to control and extinguish,” he said.
Pickersgill said that rural water supply systems, mainly in eastern and southern parishes, have been severely affected and based on reports from the National Water Commission (NWC), 120 of the NWC’s 460 systems are affected and some systems operated by parish councils have declined greatly or dried up entirely.
“At the same time, the situation is made even worse because piped water demand has increased by as much as 50 per cent in some locations, since the water is being used for irrigation, fire-fighting, gardening and other purposes for which it was not designed, placing an undue burden on the existing NWC supply.”
Based on meteorological reports, the weather outlook for the next few months is troubling, said the minister.
“The El Nino weather phenomenon that is presently affecting our weather pattern is projected to continue and will result in no significant increase of rainfall even during the next rainy season, which is from October to November.
“At the same time, the global prediction is for this year to be the hottest year on record since 1880, when record keeping began. Indeed, the month of May was declared the hottest May on record.
“Over the years some unscrupulous persons have cut down trees, decimated our watersheds and polluted our water sources. What this means is that the already serious water supply situation we are experiencing will most likely worsen,” said Pickersgill.
He outlined measures aimed at addressing the water shortage, including the release of additional funds for the trucking of water, the rapid repair of leaks by the NWC and the setting up of phone hotlines for persons to report leaks.
The Ministry of Water will also redeploy 40 trucks to the most critical areas including the southern parish of Clarendon and the “breadbasket” parish of St. Elizabeth – also in the south.
Pickersgill indicated that his ministry is preparing rainwater harvesting policy guidelines.
“I have said repeatedly that we must re-embrace rainwater harvesting as an integral part of our water security efforts now and for the future,” he said. “I firmly believe that this is the route we must take in terms of climate change impacts which will intensify drought conditions.”
Last week, the NWC reported that levels at the two main catchment facilities in the Corporate Area have dwindled to about one month’s supply and the situation is deteriorating daily.