JOINT MINISTERIAL STATEMENT ISSUED BY HON. ROBERT PICKERSGILL M.P. MINISTER OF WATER, LAND, ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE
EFFECTS OF THE
DROUGHT ON SCHOOLS AND IN THE AGRICULTURE SECTOR
On the instruction of the Most Hon. Prime Minister, I convened a meeting on Tuesday, August, 26, with Ministers and senior officials from the Ministries of Education, Health, Local Government and Community Development, as well as Agriculture and Fisheries, with a view to obtaining detailed information on the institutions and sectors that are likely to be affected by the lack of water due to the prolonged drought.
This information is particularly important in light of the most recent projections from the Meteorological Service that the Southern parishes of St. Elizabeth, Manchester, Clarendon, St. Catherine, Kingston and St. Andrew, as well as the North Eastern Parishes of St. Mary, Portland, and St. Thomas, will continue to receive below normal rainfall.
As the drought continues, and with the opening of the new school term imminent, it has not escaped our attention that some of our educational institutions, could possibly be impacted by the ongoing drought that the island continues to experience.
Although we have had a few showers recently, particularly in the Corporate Area which is one of the areas that is hardest hit by the impacts of the drought, as I have often said, “one or two showers, do not, a drought break”. As such, not only our education sector could be affected, but the agriculture sector continues to feel the effects of the prolonged dry period.
A comprehensive list obtained from the Ministry of Education has revealed that some 200 schools islandwide, especially those in the areas severely impacted by the drought, could be affected, by the reduced water supplies, and in particular, those schools that receive water from the NWC’s main pipelines.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of the schools listed do not currently have adequate storage capacity.
For those educational institutions that have adequate storage capacity, I want to give every assurance that the National Water Commission, and the Rapid Response Unit, in collaboration with the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, will be doing their utmost to supply water to the affected schools, so that the new school term will commence as smoothly as possible.
I have instructed the NWC to begin trucking water to schools that are likely to be affected by the lack of water. The Local Authorities as well as the Rapid Response Unit, will be assisting the NWC to deliver water to schools where the NWC currently does not have supplies.
Already, The NWC has been assisting some schools in the Corporate Area, that are experiencing challenges with their supplies, and are without adequate storage capacity, by providing a number of black tanks to these institutions.
For those schools that currently do not have adequate storage capacity, the Local Government Ministry has given the assurance that it will assist as much as possible, in providing those institutions with water.
Indeed, the Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Hon. Noel Arscott, has stated that he has already contacted the mayors in those areas most severely affected by the drought, to ensure that the Parish Councillors are in touch with the principals of the schools in their respective divisions, in order to make sure that those schools have a supply of water.
In addition, I have been liaising with my colleague Members of Parliament to suggest that they assist in ascertaining those schools without sufficient storage capacity in their constituencies.
We are making every effort to ensure that the lack of water will not be an issue in the re-opening of the new school term.
However, should an emergency arise, I am imploring persons to contact the National Water Commission’s hotline at 791-6323. Let me also remind you that the Leak Hotline Numbers, 733- 5655, and 733-5656, are still operational.
In terms of the Health Sector, the hospitals and health centres are currently receiving supplies. However, they are on the priority list for trucking should the need arise.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is reporting that to date, the estimated loss to the sector as a result of the drought is 2190 hectares of crops valued at over J$953.5 million. In this sector, some 18,309 farmers have been affected.
To mitigate the effects of the drought, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has disbursed J$33 million, of which, J$30million has been allocated to the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), as well as to Members of Parliament in the most affected areas, to formulate programmes to save crops, as well as to increase production in those areas with sufficient access to water supplies to counter the possible shortfall in production from the drought stricken areas.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is currently undertaking an audit of the available underutilized greenhouse capacity with a view to working with greenhouse farmers to maximize their production.
It will also be utilizing all idle capacity in the aquaculture sector, as well as the full utilization of lands in the agro parks.
As minister with portfolio responsibility for climate change, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the fact that the current challenges we are experiencing with our water supplies and food security are indicative of the impacts of climate change. This means that we will have to ensure our water and food security in the face of more intense droughts, floods and storms.
That is why I have consistently championed the case for rainwater harvesting, and have vehemently declared the urgency for us to return to this modality.
In the meantime, in the face of the increasing incidence of drought as one impact of climate change, I urge everyone to remember that “with climate change, we must change” and to continue to conserve on their use of that “life giving liquid”… water.
Robert D. Pickersgill M.P.