JIS News

Managing Director of the Water Resources Authority (WRA), Basil Fernandez, has expressed the view that Jamaica’s water quality is among the best in the world.
“You have to remember that our water is not tainted by some of the pharmaceuticals and chemicals found in the water in some countries,” he told JIS News. “Many cruise ships that visit Jamaica and come from ports such as Miami, get their supply of water from Ocho Rios and not from anywhere else,” he said.
Corporate Public Relations Manager of the National Water Commission (NWC), Charles Buchanan, echoed this view also, in a JIS News interview. “Generally, Jamaica’s water quality ranks among the very best in the world. This is usually because of a combination of two factors. The raw water quality in Jamaica is generally good across many locations in Jamaica,” he said.
“The high quality of water is also a factor of the rigorous process of water treatment that we have. In fact, in many other countries, persons do not drink the water that is provided from their municipal service. In Jamaica, we have stringently sought to achieve the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) and the Ministry of Health’s water quality standards,” he added.
Mr. Buchanan noted that the NWC maintains a very vigorous programme to ensure that there was no compromise of the water quality it supplies to the population.
“We have to be very much on our toes as well as spend significant amounts of money to make sure that this quality control is maintained and the well-being of our customers is protected,” he reiterated.
Mr. Buchanan said that it was not unusual for countries to post notices advising people not to drink water from their taps.
“This is done in most places in the United States. And they don’t have a problem with money. Even with the limited resources we have, the water quality here is one of the things we can be absolutely proud of. In fact, most cruise ships that come into the region take water only in Jamaica and in select locations in the United States,” said Mr. Buchanan.
Underscoring this point, Minister of Water and Housing, Dr. Horace Chang, speaking at the Caribbean Sanitation Workshop at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston earlier this year, stated that the availability of safe drinking water has important implications for development.
“Apart from the obvious health issue, the challenge of safe drinking water and basic sanitation is closely linked to several other socio-political issues, first and foremost among them is poverty,” Dr. Chang said.
Water and sanitation are intricately bound, and it is the lack of proper sanitation caused by the unavailability of good quality water that adversely affects many people around the world.
“It is the impoverished developing countries of the world including Latin America and the Caribbean region, that the lack of safe water and sanitation has the greatest impact and where the greatest interventions are needed to prevent the outbreak of disease,” the Minister, who is a medical doctor, said.
The list of chemicals and material that can affect water quality to the detriment of humans is wide. This list includes pesticides, fertilisers and human waste. In general, according to the WRA Managing Director, Jamaica has excellent water quality, and there have been comments made that this is one of the few countries where treated water is put to domestic use such as flushing toilets, and washing clothes.
According to the WHO, drinking water quality is an issue of concern for human health in developing and developed countries world-wide. The risks, WHO says, arises from infectious agents, toxic chemicals, and radiological hazards.
The WHO produces international norms on water quality and human health, in the form of guidelines that are used as the basis for regulation and standard setting, in developing and developed countries world-wide. According to these guidelines, safe drinking water is one which does not present any significant health risk over a lifetime of use.
The guidelines also look at the quality of water for uses which are of a higher standard than that which is used for drinking. This includes water used in renal dialysis, the production of pharmaceuticals, cleaning of contact lenses, and for food preparation. The guidelines also point to persons who would normally be able to drink water of a certain quality requiring a higher level when their immune systems are weakened. At this time, those persons may be required to boil water to kill the micro organisms that they would normally be able to tolerate.
The view that Jamaica’s water is better than that of many other countries has been long held by Jamaicans. Travelers hold in high regard local supplies of the precious resource, and even say that there are very few countries where the water can be drunk from the tap without risking stomach discomfort or worse.
A veteran sports journalist, who has travelled to more than 20 countries, told JIS News, that he does not normally drink water from the tap since he experienced some discomfort from doing so some time ago. He said that from his experience, while water can be drunk from the taps in Jamaica, this practice is officially not advised in some countries, hence the proliferation of bottled water on the market.
“In fact, the first place that I saw bottled water being sold was in the Maracana Stadium in Brazil,” he said.
The sports journalist, who has visited New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Greece, Switzerland, El Salvador, Honduras, Antigua, Barbados, Puerto Rico, and Haiti among other countries, said that the drinking of bottled water is a new phenomenon in Jamaica, and started after a hurricane when water was not available, and the high turbidity impacted the water systems.
“After the hurricane, the drinking of bottled water just caught on,” he observed.
Water quality describes the chemical, physical, and biological composition and characteristics of water, in other words, it refers to the suitability of water for a particular purpose. For example, water that is suitable for washing clothes or to water crops may not be good enough for human consumption.
Good water quality is very important to maintain good hygiene and thus affects good health. Water for drinking and for washing hands and utensils must be of the highest quality and free from harmful micro organisms.
Statistics from the United Nations’ Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), reveal that of the 10 million children who die annually, more than half are as a result of poor sanitation or poor hygiene. Diarrhoeal diseases, which are primarily the result of poor sanitation, are the second highest killers of children, and are responsible for 17 per cent of the deaths under the age of five. Furthermore, figures also show that diarrhoea – which is a disease caused by the lack of proper sanitation and hygiene – has killed more children in the last 10 years, than all those killed in armed conflict since the end of World War II in 1945.
The Millennium Development Goal of water for all by 2015, is a worthwhile benchmark for Jamaica, and a goal to which the Ministry of Water and Housing remains committed.