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We have heard all the catch phrases: “water is the staff of life”, “water is essential”, and “water is life” among many others, but what is certain is that water is critical to survival and the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) is working to ensure that all Jamaicans have access to piped water by the year 2010.
A catalyst that the GoJ intends to use to speed up the process and ensure this achievement is the merger of the Carib Engineering Company and the Rural Water Programme.
Seventy per cent of the island presently has access to piped water and the National Water Commission (NWC) with the Jamaica Social Investment (JSIF) intends to increase this access to 85 per cent, which would leave a 15 per cent gap to fill.This is where the merger of the companies comes in. Director of the Rural Water Programme, Ian Gage explains that, “There is a 15 per cent gap that needs to be closed and in this percentage there are communities that will not have piped water supply as some of them are very small and very deep rural. The object will be to close the gap and accomplish the stated policy of the government, which is to ensure everyone has access to piped water by 2010”.
Mr. Gage further explains that, “In closing the gap in respect to the communities that do not have access to piped water at the present, it was thought wise that merging the skills of the two entities would lead to a cohesive approach to dealing with this rural water issue”. The Rural water programme was set up under a loan agreement focus on developing water supply projects and replicating them throughout small and deep rural communities. Mr. Gage informs that the Cabinet Office has approved the merger and that presently only the technicalities and logistics for the establishment of the merger are being worked out. “It is now going through the procedure of registration and getting the legal instrument in place that will allow the company to operate legally. It is really just the logistics of ensuring that it is an existing registered company and there are some issues that have to be settled to be able to form the new company,” he says.
A time limit has not been attached to establishing the company, which tentatively will be called the Rural Water Supply Limited. Mr. Gage explains what the Rural Water Programme brings to the intended merger. “Our unit is focused on doing pilot programmes and it is intended that projects to be carried out in the merger will be similar to the ones we now carry out, so we will be bringing experience in terms of the development of small water supply projects for small rural communities,” he informs.
He adds, “On our team we have people who are experienced at financing, administration, and very important to component of those type of water supply system is the entire community development and capacity building to be able to run these water supplies and so on board. We have a community development and gender specialist and some of our programmes are looking at the effects of gender on the water supply system, how the communities relate to them”.
The Director explains that new company will have a multifunctional role, which will involve, project management, the designing of water supply systems and construction management. “It is a natural merger and a very useful synergy, it is logical and it better utilizes the human resource in a unit and as an asset in the company and basically put those resources to function more efficiently,” he notes.
Mr. Gage however cites possible challenges ahead, “On the technical side it will be challenging putting systems in place that are sustainable for the communities and that they can maintain and operate. In some cases this may prove a little difficult in terms of energy use and pumping equipments that we have to put in place and we have to be careful how much of that goes into it as it can become an economic cost on the community”.
He adds that the terrain of the communities, which are deep rural and mountainous, may also pose problems and notes other possible social challenges. “One of the toughest parts is to get the entire community aware of the process and that takes a fair amount of time and a lot of work and that’s where the bigger challenges will be,” he informs. Continuing he notes “Once we get these pilots up and running, we will be able to take a hard look at how the communities are getting involved and package it in a way so we can make a very clear constructive contribution to the future projects”.
In respect to the future maintenance of the facilities Mr. Gage notes, “We really would like to see communities seek funding of their own and put in water supply of their volition and we just provide guidance of the operations”.