53 years without running water

MONTEGO BAY, St James — For 53-year-old Etta Brown, water is a scarce commodity.

Having lived for more than five decades in Guilsbro, a section of the rural St James community of Lottery, Brown’s dream is to one day see water running through the pipes of her home. That, she said, would be a first-time experience as she does not know what it means to have piped water at her convenience.

Each morning Brown treks more than a mile to another section of the community called Industry, which has a standpipe. With a rag to protect her hair and a five-gallon water jug hoisted to sit on top of her head, Brown then makes the trip back home to tend to her grandchildren before they head off to school. Some mornings, she said, a kind resident of the community with a handcart might assist her with carrying the load. But this does not happen very often, she pointed out quickly.

While the walk to this community pipe, the only source of potable water in the area, would discourage the common man, Brown told the Jamaica Observer that she does up to three trips every morning to ensure that there is enough water in her home for the day.

“Sometimes I have to make three trips with the five-gallon jug on my head. I have never seen running water at home so my children haven’t seen it either, neither have my grandchildren…they have only seen it at school. So, I have to walk to Industry daily,” Brown said.

Residents of Lottery, located in the St James East Central constituency, are no strangers to a lack of running water. Now represented by Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, local representatives on both sides of the political divide have tried easing the burdens faced by the residents.

The latest project came in the form of the Canaan Pumping Station, which is expected to supply water to Lottery as well as the communities of Slippery Gut, Orange, Tamballa, Bottom Road, Top Road, Dip, Industry, Latium, Sunderland, Goodwill, Content, Bullock, and Windsor.

However, those communities are still plagued by a lack of running water, and previous inquiries with the respective authorities indicated that the topography of the area has played a significant role in that reality.

“This is a long-standing issue. Former Speaker of the House [of Representatives] Violet Neilson was the MP here before Bartlett but nobody has dealt with this issue. I see Mr Bartlett here now so I hope I see it happen before I pass away,” Brown bemoaned.

When the Sunday Observer visited Guilsbro, an elderly man, who stated that he is 90 years old, also told the newspaper that he has never had running water at his home. He, too, said that he has to journey to the community pipe for water.

A journey to the community standpipe in Industry confirmed the sad story of Brown’s daily experience. Once at the location, Brown uses both hands to push away shrub that surround the standpipe, before utilising a water hose attached to the pipe to fill her jug.

Explaining that the water she carries from the standpipe is usually not enough for the five people living in her house, Brown said relief comes from a nearby river where she and her family take baths.

“Sometimes we would want a big bath, and we can’t do that. But now that the rain fall we have the river, so we can get to bathe. But during the drought, sometimes we have to use a paint bucket of water to bathe,” said Brown.

Laundry days are challenging for Brown and her family.

“It takes five buckets of water to do laundry in the washing machine, so most times we have to use our hands because we don’t have that much water to spare,” Brown told the Sunday Observer.

She pointed out that while there is a 600-gallon water tank on the top of her house, the cost to have it filled by a water truck is currently outside of her budget.

“I have three bathrooms in my house and we have to buy a tank of water for $5,000; but we still have to take time with it [conserve] because the money isn’t a lot, so sometimes we have to make that one tank last for a month,” the woman said.

After 53 years without running water, Brown told the Sunday Observer that she is still hopeful provisions will be made for the residents of her community.

“I heard that we are supposed to be getting water from the pumping station in the Somerton area. Hopefully I will see some changes and running water in my home before I die. That is one of my dreams,” she said.

In the meantime, the community pipe is the most cost-efficient option for Brown, even though the journey is by no means smooth sailing. She stated that during a recent walk back from the standpipe she slipped on an overripe mango which caused her to fall on her back.

In that moment her main concern was the five-gallon jug of water on her head.

“I really just didn’t want to burst my water jug because how else would I get my water? The water jug fell in my chest though,” she told the Sunday Observer.