Praying for rain

Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Tuesday issued a plea to Jamaicans to conserve water and make investments in its harvesting and storage as the current drought, which he has deemed a crisis, persists with projections showing no ease in the coming months.

“We are really in a crisis… every Jamaican now needs to internalise that we are living in this period of time when we are seeing climate change before our very eyes. It is often said that we are the generation who will see the climate change but will probably be the last generation who can do anything about it,” Holness said as he outlined in the House of Representatives the prolonged dry period which has gripped the country for several months now.

“We had hoped that traditional rainfall patterns for May would have pertained, and give us the relief that we need. It is possible that this could still happen, and we do pray. For those of us of faith, we continue to pray for rain,” Holness said.

He noted that an analysis of the data comparing rainfall accumulated during the October to February periods of 2022-2023 reveal that the current dry period has been cumulatively drier than any similar period in recorded meteorological history.

“So we are in an extreme period of dryness,” the prime minister said.

He noted that rainfall outlooks published by the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology for the region for the periods May to July 2023 and August to October 2023 show that for May to July 2023 Jamaica is projected to have a 40 per cent chance of below-normal rainfall, with a lower likelihood of receiving normal or above-normal amounts.

“For the ensuing period August to October 2023, the chance of below-normal rainfall slips to 25 per cent, with the likelihood of it being above-normal rising to 40 per cent,” he said, pointing out that for specific parishes, the outlook for the May-July 2023 period suggests that most of the country will continue to experience below-normal rainfall, with the met service projecting that Portland will be hardest hit, followed by other eastern and western parishes.

The prime minister advised that the Hermitage system and the Mona Reservoir in the Corporate Area are currently at 40 per cent, and 39.5 per cent, respectively, while the Seaview water treatment plant is now at 73 per cent, causing significant disruption in the Corporate Area water supply. Multiple other systems islandwide, from the east to western parishes, have been impacted, some with levels as low as 20 and 25 per cent in Trelawny and St James.

He reminded that in addition to changing weather patterns, Jamaicans must bear in mind that infrastructure that was built to take advantage of long-standing flows would now be at risk of becoming obsolete or inadequate.

“On top of that, Jamaica’s water infrastructure is aged and not sufficient to produce and distribute water according to our settlement patterns and our demands. While the Government is working to improve our water infrastructure, every citizen must begin to practise water conservation measures and make local household investments in water capture and storage,” he stressed.

Reoutlining the multi-billion-dollar investments which the Government is undertaking to ensure sustainable water supply, he said another $1 billion is to be allocated in the 2024/25 budget to support the development of small community-based municipal water projects. Procurement, engineering, and other preliminary work are to begin on these projects immediately, Holness said.

He also advised that water harvesting guidelines are being developed by the Water Policy Unit in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation for submission to Cabinet in another two weeks. These guidelines will direct the various municipal authorities in making water harvesting requirements of new housing and commercial developments.