Feature
Acting Senior Director, Water Policy and Monitoring, Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation (MEGJC), Talia Gibson
Photo: Donald De La Haye

March 22 is observed annually by the United Nations (UN) as World Water Day.

The occasion is used to promote the sustainable management of freshwater resources globally.

This year, the day is being observed under the theme: ‘Water and Climate Change’.

In Jamaica, the National Water Sector Policy and Implementation Plan 2019 is the document which makes provision for the long-term sustainable management and development of the island’s freshwater resources.

It is one of 31 sector plans that form the foundation for the development of Vision 2030 Jamaica, the country’s long-term National Development Plan.

The policy, which was promulgated in 2000, was tabled in Parliament last year.

It focuses on the nation’s water resources both in terms of quality and quantity, as well as measures to improve the provision of sanitation.

“The policy ensures that the Government provides universal access to safe potable water by 2030 to all Jamaicans, regardless of environmental factors such a climate change and topography,” Acting Senior Director, Water Policy and Monitoring, Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation (MEGJC), Talia Gibson, tells JIS News.

She explains that ‘access’, under the policy, refers to citizens having at least 50 litres of water daily, within 500 metres of their homes, at their disposal.

Ms. Gibson says given Jamaica’s hilly terrain, it is currently not financially or physically feasible to provide in-home piped water to some of the more remote areas.

The policy stipulates that in such cases, a potable water station must be within 50 metres of residents’ homes.

The Government facilitates this through the collaborative efforts of members of the water sector.

“It is an integrated approach that is being taken to implement the policy. The Ministry coordinates with various agencies and departments which oversee water and other resources, to ensure proper management so that persons like you and I will have water in the future,” Ms. Gibson states.

“In the months to come the Ministry along with various stakeholders, such as the Rural Water Supply Company (RWSL), National Water Commission (NWC), Water Resources Authority (WRA) and the National Irrigation Commission (NIC), will be implementing several water supply system projects,” she adds.

The Acting Director points out that water supply and sanitation services are critically important to the health and well-being of citizens, the economy, and Jamaica’s prospects for national development and growth.

However, climate change and non-water revenue are threats to the nation’s water resources.

“We have six main principles which guide the policy as we look at an integrated approach to manage our water resources: sustainability and inter-generational equity, efficiency, integrated water resource management, universal access, response to gender and vulnerable groups and stakeholder participation. These principles ensure that we effectively respond to threats to our water resources,” Ms. Gibson states.

Regarding the theme for World Water Day, Ms. Gibson says the policy seeks to promote the adoption of measures to address water and climate change issues.

She states that the Government is cognizant of the demand for improvements and expansions, and the limitations affecting operations in the water sector.

“We, as citizens, play a very critical role in the sustainability of our water resources; so we should embrace using water-saving techniques and appreciate the value of this precious commodity,” Ms. Gibson says.

“Our efforts to commemorate World Water Day are part of the Ministry’s thrust to inform citizens of their responsibility alongside the Ministry’s responsibility in managing the nation’s freshwater resources to ensure access for all,” she adds.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), two out of every 10 persons have no access to safe drinking water and each year, millions of people die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, poor sanitation and hygiene.

Approximately 70 per cent of Jamaica’s population has access to safe drinking water via house connections from the NWC.

The remaining 30 per cent obtain potable water from standpipes, water trucks, community catchment tanks, rainwater catchment tanks and direct access to rivers and streams.

Jamaica’s water resources consist of groundwater, captured in both limestone and alluvial aquifers, and surface water from rivers and streams.

According to data from the WRA in the policy, average annual rainfall is reported as 21,526 Million Cubic Metres per year (MCM/y).

Of this amount, 50 per cent is lost to evapotranspiration and the remainder or ‘effective rainfall’ is distributed in approximately equal proportions (25 per cent each) as surface water and groundwater.

The limestone aquifer captures 97 per cent of the groundwater, and alluvial aquifers – three per cent.

Some 84 per cent of Jamaica’s freshwater resources are from limestone and alluvium aquifers. The remaining 16 per cent is provided by surface water.

Approximately 25 per cent of the water abstracted is used to meet the demand for potable water and the remaining 75 per cent is used for irrigation.

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