Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Education Minister and Jamaica's Water woes

Just today, Education Minister the Hon. Ronald Thwaites announced that given the current water crisis, parents may be called upon to provide their children with sufficient water for drinking and for sanitary purposes when schools reopen in September.

He goes on to state that "We have to put some responsibility on parents and students to bring drinking water, and, on occasions, to bring water enough to wash hands and to flush the toilet," while indicating that it takes approximately five gallons of water to flush old-style toilets and two gallons for newer models.

With all due regards for the goodly minister and his presumed well to do intentions, there are several reasons why this proposal is not only unrealistic but highly impractical and some daresay ludicrous.

One wonders about the last time the Minister assessed HOW the majority of Jamaica's students travel to and from school (There seems to be a presumption that they all go with parents in tow and via private vehicles?) to transport this 'new September' burden.

Without being baseless, let us deconstruct some of the Minister's many suggestions and see why they are not feasible while suggesting some alternatives.


Minister Thwaites: While doing this might inconvenience some parents, it is a practical suggestion that could become a reality as Jamaica continues to grapple with drought conditions. "We hope it doesn't come to that, but if the school doesn't have water, what is more important? To have the school continue, with the added burden of taking some water, or to throw up your hands?" the minister asked.

No No No Minister, what is more important is having our children go to school with as little impediments to learning as possible. We can widely acknowledge that many of Jamaica's children are already faced with several restrictions: no breakfast, little or no lunch money, clothes that have seen way better days and the myriad continues. To add 'just a little inconvenience' of taking water to school daily is far more burdensome than is presumed. One wonders if the situation in several rural communities will be noted. Will the children now be required to balance a 5 gallon bottle IF its likely (and it very much is) that their parent wont be on hand to carry same?

For the children in the urban areas, will some space be carved out in the bus and other modes of public transportation for their 'extra luggage'? And even for the children who have access to private transportation, will filling up your 2-5 gallon bottle now be included with the likes of getting homework done and laying out uniforms for the next day?

In the same breath Minister, without children balancing their bottles daily, the solution can never be to 'throw our hands in the air' and that dear Minister is what makes one a leader. Leaders are expected to asses situations as they arise and seek out well thought out solutions. Leaders, it is known may not have all the answers, but their capacity allows them to access the people who do and more importantly, leaders never 'throw up their hands' and say oh well; they like the people they lead know the importance of pressing on until the problem is solved. Especially in matters relating to the nation's children, it takes more than a spur of the moment declaration.

I put it to you that it is feasible and reasonable to ask each child to travel with their drinking water by the day, but it is out of good reason to ask that any larger containers for 'sanitary purposes' become a part of the already complex transportation arrangements.

2. Minister Thwaites: "Education is absolutely the first priority, and we must not find any reason or every reason to suspend it," 

We absolutely agree with education as a priority and should not be suspended at will. It is for this very reason that the current suggestions minister needs to be made only after one has examined how the home-school balance will be maintained and how this call for parents to provide 'additional supplies' daily will affect everything else in one's household. Without real data on how each household is being affected, it begs the bigger question, IF the government does not have enough water to meet the needs of a nation, where are the parents expected to find same? Is it reasonable to assume that households have unknown stores of water while the government doesn't? Are the rivers, springs or wells in our backyards more bountiful than those that service the nations' reservoirs? Dear Minister, think on these things.

The article also quoted president of the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica,Everton Hannam, who noted: "while it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and the National Water Commission (NWC) to ensure that schools have an adequate water supply (That is in bold for a reason), parents also have a role to play in minimizing the possible effect the water shortage might have on their children.

"Taking into consideration the situation where we are at with the extreme drought and the options that exist of either not sending our children to school or sending them ill-prepared, then, at this time, we would support whatever proposals are being put forward by the Government,"


We commend Mr. Hannam for his 'support for the cause' yet he cannot be blamed. He trusts our Minister of Education to serve a feasible and beneficial solution and is reiterating his comment to such an approach. Indeed parents have a role- our child(ren)'s education and its associated demands are our concern. Yet, suggest to me that as a parent, at this particular time I should seek to discuss with my child the importance of using water wisely; the importance of conserving as much as possible; of recycling water where possible and even sharing with those who cannot afford to BUY trucked water to even shower before going to school. But Mr. Minister, the immediate or long term solution cannot be a call for uniformed children to travel daily with water to meet their sanitary needs if the need so arises.


I note too dear Minister that you have been assured by Water Minister Robert Pickersgill that water will be trucked to schools affected by the drought.

So what of this assurance then? Is there no faith in Minister Pickersgill's promises? Is it a matter of the trucked supplies being inadequate? Moreso, how often will this water be trucked? The answers to these questions can open up eyes and minds to the bigger issue here and a nation's demise if decisions are not made and executed at the national level by the respective parties.

We note too concerns from Corporate communications manager for the NWC, Charles Buchanan, that both rural and Corporate Area water systems were under pressure and this was likely to increase for the reopening of schools. While this is true, it has been so for quite a while. One would be led to believe that Jamaica's worsening drought situation has only been a concern since August. It has long been coming and maybe it is time we admit that we have taken a 'wait-and-see' approach and now that we as seeing, as usual, the solution has to lie in overburdening those who are already burdened.

As a mother, I can see how even the thought of this "BYOB" concept should be alarming-alarming because in Jamaica, once a minister thinks it, he can implement it; alarming too because I have seen families who are truly affected by this drought with not enough water to cook or bathe, much less to take outside of their homes.

What then? Will families that do not even have sufficient water at home to take care of basic needs be pressured to siphon off a portion of their precious but limited commodity to send a container with each of its 1-3 children leaving home daily?

What happens if there is just enough water for the home's use? What then? No school today?


Dear Minister, we know these are drastic times in relation to Jamaica's drought situation. We agree with the NWC that "It is likely to increase the challenges with which we will be faced, and so some additional mechanisms will need to be put in place to mitigate" and that the increased demand for water in certain specified locations will create some additional pressures and challenges for our system,"

We note however that if the national reserves are way below ideal, it stands to reason that real families and real lives are also low on their ideal supplies and cannot be called on break their own backs by supplying more than they have to begin with.

As a Jamaican Mother, I have grown learning how to "Tek yuh han mek fashion" (Use whatever limited resources wisely for desired outcomes) and as a mother who has often had to employ that strategy, these are my humble suggestions:

1. There needs to be an immediate plan for better utilization of the water being trucked to the schools- How will the current short supply be managed? Will there be an interim water monitor? How often will persons be 'allowed' to utilize that water and what will it be used for? I cringe at the thought of children gathered around an often plastic basin washing hands repeatedly from the same bowl of water as therein Jamaica would face another national shame and the threat of the nuisance bacteria and germs that comes with such a practice.

2. Host a briefing with school administrations and parents at the 'back to school Parent Teachers's meeting to note the current plight and share simple conservation and water management tips. The suggested plan at 1 above would be best detailed at this time.

3. Encourage all schools to host session with children on the importance of water conservation at this phase and encourage students to take drinking water daily. Not such a bad move either as this gives parents the oppurtunity to make the water 'safe' for consumption if necessary.

4. Balance the scales. We commend the mention of rainwater Harvesting, yet this practice can only work for areas that have water to be harvested. Have our water management experts assess areas that may have 'enough' water vs those who have none and aim to use our rainwater harvesting practices to supply some of our more well needy brothers and sisters.

5. Importantly, the Government of Jamaica and its attendant ministers MUST be in a position to outline the immediate plans that are on the cards to help us tide over while this drought ravages. Again, we did not just learn today that our reserves and water management systems are inadequate.

After all, When did our leaders realize that school would reopen shortly and children and teachers alike would be affected by this malais?


Dear Minister, the Gleaner's title Flush Fears is correct, but I willfully hope that good thinking will prevail and that when next Jamaicans hear from our respective ministers, it will be to renew some hope that there is the larger mandate of getting this right. Jamaica's drought woes will clearly have to be addressed via an integrated and inter-ministerial approach, so in the interim we will un-read much of what was declared afore and confidently declare that our leaders would never allow us to sink in the throes of despair.

What are your thoughts on the Minister's suggestions? What are some of your recommendations? Let us know, until then XO....
J Mom signature

2 comments:

Coaine Richards said...

Well said. Still think each child can just carry 1 gallon and just flush every 5 use though. Lololol. Fun and joke aside, the suggestions out forth are reasonable.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Note too that the health of our children is just as important...in fact it trumps education in terms of priority. With reports of Cjikingunya already beaing here and with all the other existing diseases that can possibly plague our children, i find it mind-boggling that the minister would make these suggestions

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