- Some 660,000 residents of the Kingston Metropolitan Region (KMR) are to benefit from improved water supply, as a result of work being undertaken by the Government to safeguard the Yallahs River and Hope River watersheds.
- The US$3.9 million project, which was launched in April, is aimed at protecting the area from degradation, while improving water resource management.
- It is being undertaken over five years by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), through the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
Some 660,000 residents of the Kingston Metropolitan Region (KMR) are to benefit from improved water supply, as a result of work being undertaken by the Government to safeguard the Yallahs River and Hope River watersheds.
The US$3.9 million project, which was launched in April, is aimed at protecting the area from degradation, while improving water resource management.
It is being undertaken over five years by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), through the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
The objective is to reduce pressure on natural resources in the watershed areas of the Blue Mountains by increasing the practice of Sustainable Land Management (SLM) resulting in improved management of biological diversity and enhanced flow of ecosystem services that sustain local livelihoods.
A watershed is an area of land that drains rainwater into one location such as a stream, lake or wetland. These water bodies are important as they provide drinking water for people and wildlife, and support habitat for plants and animals. They also provide the opportunity for recreation and enjoyment of nature.
The Hope River and Yallahs River watersheds in St. Thomas produce 42 per cent of water for the KMR.
These two adjoining watershed management units cover some 44,486 hectares on the southern slopes of the Blue Mountain range. The upper slopes of the two watersheds contain nearly 10 per cent of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, which protects the largest block of closed broadleaf forest in the country.
Additionally, the basic water resources to sustain the agricultural livelihoods in the area and the irrigated areas in the lower part of the Yallahs basin are provided by these watersheds. The areas represent seven per cent of the island’s farmland, which provides livelihoods for approximately 15,000 farmers.
The watersheds, however, are in a state of severe degradation, posing a threat to water quality and availability.
This is due to unsuitable hillside agricultural practices such as over cultivation of steep slopes, indiscriminate slashing and burning, and cultivating without soil conservation; illegal removal of trees for fuel wood and charcoal production, yam sticks and lumber; illegal settlements on hillside lands; forest fires; and unapproved quarrying and sand mining.
Degradation of watersheds reduces the productivity of land, increases siltation of rivers and reservoirs due to soil erosion; increases flooding resulting in loss of life, property, roads and agricultural crops; and results in loss of habitat for important flora and fauna. It also affects income generation opportunities, especially for small farmers.
Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill, says the Forestry Department estimates that approximately 49 per cent of the combined area is prone to landslides, and 65 per cent is subject to soil erosion.
He says that the areas are exposed to heavy rains in short periods as a result of hurricanes and extreme weather events. “Also, part of the watersheds has significant slopes, a feature which is compounded by less than adequate soil management techniques by small farmers,” he notes further.
The project being undertaken is geared towards achieving a greater level of water security, by improving the efficiency with which water is collected and stored for present and future use throughout the Kingston Metropolitan Area.
The overall goal is to improve the conservation and management of biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services in the watershed areas.
This will be achieved through institutional strengthening and capacity building for integrating biodiversity into watershed management.
This will be supported by the watershed policy for the country and a GIS-based Decision Support System, which will provide real time information to support water resource-related decision-making; creating economic and financial incentives to support biodiversity and; integrated water resource management; implementing sustainable livelihoods, agriculture, and forestry in watershed communities.
Through these activities, more than 200 community persons will be trained in various thematic areas such as land husbandry, best practices, fire management, ecotourism and other small business ventures.
Other beneficial activities will include the reforestation of 400 hectares of degraded land; development of six on-farm demonstration plots and commissioning of market studies for development of alternative livelihoods in four communities within the Yallahs and Hope Watershed Management Areas.
The sustainability of the project will be achieved through economic and financial incentives provided to the residents, for them to engage in activities that protect agriculture and forestry in the watershed communities.
An extension programme has been designed for the beneficiary communities, which entails capacity building, maintaining sustainable agriculture, biodiversity conservation, land husbandry, fire management training, and alternative livelihoods.
“These projects will ensure that we have a good economy, and society,” states Executive Director of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), Lenworth Fulton.
“At the end of the day, the measurable outcomes will be more educated, more prepared farmers doing best practices to sustain our rivers, and sustain our slopes,” he says.
Project Coordinator at NEPA, Nelsa English-Johnson, tells JIS News that at the end of the five-year project, “we must reduce the deforestation rate in the watersheds. We must increase our carbon sequestration, and reduce water turbidity.”
The Coordinator says it is crucial that all stakeholders “work together” to ensure the success of the undertaking. As such, she informs that the various players will be asked to sign a “key rules of understanding” to ensure that everyone is on board.
Chief Executive Officer of NEPA, Peter Knight, is also appealing for full participation and support for the smooth implementation of the project.
He is also assuring the financiers of the project that a “high level of accountability and strong execution” will be employed. “We want to account for every cent that is made available to us,” Mr. Knight states.
Country Representative for the IDB, Therese Turner-Jones, wants people living in the watershed communities to fully understand the aims of the project “own this project, and care about what is it that the project wants to do.”
Other agencies involved with the watershed project are the Forestry Department, the Water Resources Authority (WRA), the National Water Commission (NWC), as well as RADA.