My Vivid Childhood Memories
As a son of the soil and resident of the Frank field division in the political constituency of North West Clarendon Jamaica, I know the many springs and naturally-watered-gullies in that geographic area. As a school boy I swam and fished in some of the deepest holes in one of Jamaica’s most prominent waterways, the Rio-Minho River. I have been navigating the hills and gullies since I was a boy. What made that era especially reassuring and tantalizing at that time was the poignant knowledge that there was “water, water, everywhere”. |Yet today the sad contrast is that most people cannot get a drop to drink from that area.
Very late at night, water would sometimes creep its way through the old galvanized lines to the top of Andrew-Hill. I can clearly remember the musical sounds of exuberant voices, clamouring steel buckets, aluminium pudding pans, and tar drums that marked the community’s water catching fiesta, which seemed almost festive. The variety of clashing vessels competed with the echoes of happy voices of children – who would rather not sleep – and the bellowing and complaining of exhausted adults hustling together to get their fill while discussing everything from farming experiences of the day to misguided current affairs or passionate politics. That was all happening under the penetrating moonlight, that highlighted the silvery sides of shimmering banana leaves, often mistaken by the children to be dancing Duppy. Or, in the dreaded darkness, filled with black smoke from “kitchen-bitch” or, bottle-torches. The noise of night creatures echoed in the dense thick of distant bushes, like God-made music.
Back then, optimism filled the air, and one would have thought that water issues would have improved 40 years later. Instead, things have undoubtedly regressed significantly.
Dropping the ball, a long time ago
The National Water Company (NWC) has seemingly fallen into some sense of complacency, has failed to improve the service and has made retrograde steps. Today, the pipes in every yard are permanently dry relics and serve as little icons of yesteryear. Every soul today, young and old, must walk for miles to find this treasured commodity, or prepare to buy it from the water predators who are rumoured to be manipulating and disrupting its usual flow.
Yes, it is easy to blame the problem on “the drought” rather than facing the fact that the communities continue to suffer from poor and outdated infrastructure. The broken support includes antique water pumps, inadequate transfer capacities of critical water transmission mains, minimal comparable development and maintenance of the old reservoirs and public supply systems in general. Shocking to me, I find myself carrying water from a greater distance than I did as a child on my return from studying in the United States. Many residents continue to be plagued by the lack of water and are still getting water bills from the NWC although they have not had piped water to their homes for over 40 years.
I believe that it is fair to assert that something is very wrong with the way the NWC and the Parish Council handle domestic water supply for rural families.
“The Diamond in the Rough.”
As the third-largest parish in Jamaica, Clarendon covers an area of over 1,196 square kilometers with 247,702 citizens (as recorded by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica 2018). It has many surface water supply sources such as the Peace River, Pindars River, Rio Minho, and the Pedro River, conjoined by numerous tributaries and springs. The National Water Commission (NWC) is responsible for the regulation, implementation, and sustenance of the primary domestic source of water in the parish. According to the Clarendon water supply plan published on October 12, 2011, it estimated that just 66%, or 42,719 families benefit from a domestic water supply service.
The issue is not the availability of water: the problem rests squarely with the short-sightedness of elected officials and the relevant authorities to improve and monitor a modern water supply system. Consequently, the lack of prioritization of the people’s basic needs, the blatant lack of accountability, and the gross negligence towards the people in the constituency have seemingly become the norm. The people of Frank-field and its surroundings are exhausted from empty promises, political disappointments, and neglect that feed into an air of bewildered hopelessness.
“Big-up,” the man called “Chicken.”
I am pleased to write that a concerned citizen called “Chicken” has taken it onto himself to supply water to citizens in some sections of North West Clarendon. I applaud the man “bigtime”. He carries the expense of running water lines to houses which his source can supply by gravity flow, fixing the problem that would give millions of people reliable water and perhaps even Hydro-Electric Energy. As is the case with Lake Volta, the largest artificial reservoir in the world, contained behind the Akosombo Dam, we need a similar water plan.
For years, I have been advocating for an improved water supply infrastructure for the people of North West Clarendon and my pleas have seemingly fallen on deaf ears. It is rumoured that the NWC responsible personnel aims to revamp some long-neglected and broken 50-year-old systems. To my knowledge, there has been no mention of building a modern comprehensive water treatment and distribution plant to meet the needs of the residents. The need for a 21st-century treatment plant is critical, as such a plant would ensure satisfactory treatment levels for human consumption and satisfy capacity. No longer will we accept the placing of Band-Aid on a huge ulcer. Any supply of water to homes that is not carefully filtered, treated and frequently tested for quality control, is unacceptable.
I have a proposal: it is to clean, dredge, and dam an uppermost area of the Rio-Minho’s source (River-Head). The idea is to build a reservoir (dam) from the river source that could send water as far as Kingston by gravity flow and could be retrofitted with water treatment and hydroelectric capabilities. This should be a priority of the Mines and Geology Division (MGD) and the NWC and other stakeholders. It does not require a genius to understand that the geography of the region boasts multiple natural water sources that emerge from some of the highest hilly areas, second only to the Blue Mountain landscape.
My vision is for the development of the upper Rio Minho river dam, the building of a proper reservoir in Smithville, and other high-level sources that will gravity feed to a comprehensive treatment and bottling plant. The water bottling plant would also provide some degree of employment in the constituency. I envision a “shares investment” with the majority of the shares are owned by the citizens. 40%–60% investment capital. This would be a share, “growth investment” where the value of the original investment grows over the medium to long term. Income would also be received from dividends, which are effectively a portion of the company’s profit paid out to its shareholders. An education program to advise the shareholders would be offered so that the people would learn how equities works and the risks involved.
Stagnation, a town frozen in time!
A recent discussion with my 92 year’s old father, Mr Curtis B. Nelson, a building contractor and structural engineer and a well-respected citizen of the constituency, brought me face-to-face with a memorable segment of my childhood past. We stood in the town square of Frank field where I roamed as a child in the early 70s. I could still find familiar cracks on the broken and dirty sidewalks that reflect the level of profound infrastructural neglect. The old and crumbling walls of the Georgian style architecture paint a dismal picture. It dawned on me how much the town is stagnant and need urgent repairs. The only evidence of modernity is a clutter—litter of Japanese imported cars which seriously clog the streets — leaving little room for pedestrian commute.
The population has significantly outgrown the original intended use of the town. Yet, the infrastructure is a testament to the extraordinary efforts of the late Honourable Edwin Allen, the father of civility as he cared for the people of Clarendon many years ago. There is no question that the problem of critically poor infrastructure that is plaguing the region should be an immediate priority for local politicians.
Growing health concerns, amidst the meat of the matter
The citizens of North West Clarendon are in a critical water shortage. They deserve a long-overdue, reliable water distribution and treatment system to address the long-standing inconvenience and the related health risks. Successive governments have failed to improve the system despite the population growth that brought about added demands for water. When people are forced to “scoop-up” water from holes in the ground, they openly subjected to the possibility of major health issues, and unhygienic sanitation problems. Safer water could prevent 1.4 million child deaths from diarr0hea; 500 000 deaths from malaria; 860 000 child deaths from malnutrition; 280 000 deaths from drowning and 5 million people can avoid lymphatic filariasis and another 5 million from trachoma.
“Investment to improve drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, and water resource management systems makes strong economic sense: every dollar invested leads to up to eight dollars in benefits. In addition to the value of saved human lives, other benefits include higher economic productivity, more education, and health-care savings” (World Health Organization 2019).
A ray of hope?
It is apparent that the government has a water plan, and a Minister has been appointed to address water issues accordingly. It is refreshing to know that the new Minister in question has picked up the baton of intent and has been moving with it expeditiously. I hope that he is busy collaborating with the relevant scientists, geologists, and engineers, in exploring the possibilities of serious water distribution options that will use the many upper Clarendon water sources. I welcome the Minister and his keen sense of purpose and I am looking for nothing less than a severe water crisis transformation plan from the government. The focus of our new Minister of water MUST be the task of fixing the old water systems island-wide. With a new political leadership, I am confidently anticipating that common sense will bring a well-needed resolution; it MUST attract the highest levels of urgency and seriousness.
I believe that the best possibility for rural development is the provision of an efficient water supply that benefits every family. Consider the positive impact that this water supply will have on the health, wellness and environment of the people who live in North West Clarendon.
Dr. Clovis Nelson is an educator and Human Rights activist from Frank field Clarendon in rural Jamaica. He is also a fine artist, sculptor and art educator working in Jamaica and the USA and has written extensively on the STEM educational concept. This article was edited by Ann Smith, Managing Editor of Kinstonmouth.com. Persons wishing to contact |Dr. Clovis Nelson or respond to this article may do so on firstname.lastname@example.org or via Linkedin.