Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.


The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Well we Jamaicans who had empty pipes amidst pouring rain felt a bit like the old sailor last week. Government officials will naturally give all sorts of pathetic excuses as to why we had floods and water lock offs at the same time, but scarcity among excess is nearly always the result of inept planning and incompetent management. To paraphrase Bob Marley, in an abundance of water the foolishly governed nation is thirsty.


We Mandevillians who have no water half the time find the sight of millions of gallons of rain going to waste especially disgusting. Why in God’s name have the relevant authorities not long ago recognized that the current reservoir system is totally inadequate and built additional ones? And why can’t they buy some decent pumps in the meantime? We’re sick of this “pumps temporarily out of commission” situation that has been going on for years.


The ongoing power cuts only add insult to injury. And last Wednesday night as I sat in the dark without any water an intense desire to get rid of this administration came over me. For I would have to be a fool to vote for a government which can’t even consistently supply the residents of its most prosperous town with such basic necessities of modern life as electricity and running water. If people have to build tanks and buy generators to live normally – and not many Jamaicans can - what purpose are these jokers in Gordon House serving?


Now John Junor is likeable and intelligent and a good health minister. But since my complaints to the water ministry have no effect and he is my minister of parliament, Mr. Junor must bear the brunt of my democratic wrath. It may be only one vote, but it will certainly be cast with maximum anger.


To be sure my discomforts were nothing compared to the misery of the thousands driven from their homes by rising water and the grief of those whose relatives tragically drowned. Now what is really infuriating about floods in Jamaica is how entirely predictable they are. For almost every May and October we see “Floods Wreak Havoc” like headlines accompanied by “worst in living memory” commentaries. Except for the number of dead for instance, these front page articles are virtually interchangeable.


“Floods wreak havoc - Two deaths, heavy property damage in six parishes”

November 1 2001


“AT LEAST two persons died, large chunks of roadways and bridges collapsed, several houses were washed away and entire communities marooned as floods rains from a tropical depression southwest of the island continued to wreak havoc in several parishes yesterday.”


“Rains continue to wreak havoc – At least seven dead” May 28, 2002


“Heavy rains lashed the island yesterday for the sixth straight day, forcing hundreds of residents into emergency shelters, and keeping some communities marooned by high water and landslides.”


And no doubt we will soon see another like this.


“$ 1-b for flood repairs” November 7, 2001.


“THE Cabinet has ordered the finance ministry to urgently release $1.1 billion to finance the repair to infrastructure and the government's disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of the flood rains that pummeled Jamaica over the past week.”


Now careless deforestation clearly contributes to the problem. But the main cause of our bi-annual watery destruction is undoubtedly the silt, debris and rubbish that block our gutters, drains and gullies and turn what should be mere inconvenience into devastation. But our government apparently prefers to see the country suffer grievously every six months rather than implement common sense island wide drain clearing programs every April and September.


To be sure Jamaican citizens must take a good deal of the blame. For 90% of our annual flood damage would never occur if communities regularly cleared their own drains. But of course it is not the communities in which the drainage is blocked that tend to suffer the consequences of their carelessness, but the ones in the path of the torrents these blockages create. But it is precisely when communal and national interests differ that government has to intervene for the sake of the common good.


The ministers of water and public works will no doubt mutter the tired old “not enough money” excuse when asked why all the drains in the island were not cleared last month. Yet the amount it would have taken to clear the gutters and gullies would probably not even be 10% of what the flood damage will cost us.


Certainly it would be a lot less than the vast amounts wasted in Operation Pride. Indeed our multi-billion dollar flood damage bill of the past year is a textbook testimony to the long term price of short-sighted populism. Would Jamaica’s poor people not have been infinitely better off if the billions squandered by former housing and water minister Dr. Karl Bythe had instead been invested in better island–wide drainage systems and expanded water catchment areas?


The dismal 10% fall in first quarter tourist arrival figures is another painful example of the inevitably deleterious effects of short-term thinking on a country’s permanent interests. Because much of this decline was unquestionably a direct result of the Jamaica Tourist Board’s cancellation of overseas television advertising due to “financial constraints”. I wonder if the hundreds of millions frittered away on Netserv and English Sports by fellow cabinet members Phillip Paulwell and Colin Cambell crossed Tourist Minster Portia Simpson’s mind when she contemplated her inadequate budget?


“One one coco full basket” goes the old Jamaican saying. Yet one one empties it too. And this government’s continuous misuse of taxpayers’ funds is obviously taking a serious cumulative toll on its ability to function properly. But then there is only so much a small poor country’s politicians can throw away or misappropriate before its people feel the direct consequences.


And as the bitter fruits of these wastages multiply, you have to wonder even more why the Prime Minister and Finance Minister did not step in earlier to limit the damage inflicted to the national pocketbook by their ‘over exuberant’ colleagues. For the information Audley Shaw used to expose these scandalous overruns and giveaways was surely also available to Mr. Patterson and Mr. Davis. And should the buck not stop with those who have the constitutional power to make it do so?



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