Wednesday, July 16, 2014

“In an abundance of water …”

by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Observer column for MON 14 July 2014

Donovan Williams displays some of his freshly reaped carrots, most of which were left diminutive by the drought. (then) Malvern farmer Everett Rogers said the drought is the worst he has seen in his 10 years farming.
As we recall the lines from Bob Marley “in an abundance of water the fool is thirsty”, we reflect on a documentary that Elizabeth Phillips, the then executive director of the Oracabessa Foundation, showed us many years ago. Funded by the Foundation’s patron Chris Blackwell, and titled “Death of a River”, it showed the Jacks River dwindling from a healthy flow to a sad trickle, as the land around it was ravaged. The film was made as a wake-up call to Jamaica, our beautiful land of wood and water.  Unfortunately, we have been too sound asleep and now as we waken to the wages of environmental neglect, many more rivers are running dry.
 The news last Thursday showed farmers in Cheapside, St. Elizabeth, surveying acres of burnt out farmland, just a few days after a massive fire at Malvern in the same parish.  One elderly resident said it was the first time in his life that he had seen the Salt Pond without water – it was described by the reporter as “a dust bowl”. We saw a goat tied out in a charred pasture, a haunting image of the threat of hunger to those who live from the land.
Professor the Hon. Anthony Chen, OM
Prof Anthony Chen
Ambassador Anthony Hill
Two of Jamaica’s most brilliant sons, Professor Anthony Chen and Ambassador Anthony Hill had warned about this calamity in their “Copenhagen Letter” published in the Jamaica Observer in December 2009 and blogged here: They had just attended a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where world leaders had agreed on targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions; financial support for mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change in developing countries; and a carbon-trading scheme aimed at ending the destruction of the world's forests (a sink for CO2) by 2030.

Their letter to Jamaican authorities called for “an all-encompassing set of programmes, which lay the bases for individual, community and national activities.” As Jamaica lurches from administration to administration, each one re-inventing the renewable energy wheel, working to score political points on attempts to find cheaper energy sources, our most vulnerable are now facing untold hardship as drought conditions take hold of our country. 

About three years ago, that drought saw folks at our office pursuing and kowtowing to water-truck operators desperately seeking water to fill the tank at our place of business.  Now we are hearing that the price has doubled – no wonder there have been media reports of water theft in several rural communities. 

Clearly, climate change is an area where our politicians should be collaborating, whatever stripe they may wear.  Please dear MPs and councillors this is the future of your own children! This crisis also calls for cooperation between environment NGOs and government agencies to take our country out of its misery.  

“Consider a Jamaica in 2050,” urge Prof Chen and Ambassador Hill, “without the results of fundamental changes to present governance institutions, principles, policies, programmes and lifestyles: less arable land with eroded coastal zones and denuded hillsides, less clean air with more pollution, less potable water with more floods and waste, a less healthy population, less to share but more, many more people angling to get their share. Jimmy Cliff 's ‘The Harder they come, the Harder they Fall’ will be ringing in our ears.”

We have wasted too much time – waste any more and the people of this country will neither forgive nor forget the emptiness of those ages-old campaign promises.

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