Designing a Water Fund for Kingston: Going Back to the Source


Jamaica – and in particular the densely populated capital city, Kingston – is suffering from a chronic water shortage.

When it’s fairly rainy, the general public doesn’t even give the general issue a moment’s thought – although there are many communities, especially in rural areas, where water is by no means easily accessible. In times of drought – and extended drought – it is on everyone’s minds and a mild panic develops. Journalists and politicians start talking about it. What if the drought continues for months on end and the pipes run dry?

And yet, Jamaicans often don’t seriously think about where their water comes from. When asked where their water comes from, they happily respond: “From the pipe!” 

Water is no longer a “quick fix” situation. Trucking in water at great expense to thirsty communities is not a viable response. Long-term, sustainable solutions are needed. When we are thinking about water, we should be thinking entirely right through to the next decade – or two, or three.

Funding is needed. And nature can help. Hence there is a need, right now, for a Water Fund for Jamaica. What is a Water Fund? Here’s a good definition:

Water Funds are organizations that design and enhance financial and governance mechanisms that unite public, private and civil society stakeholders around a common goal to contribute to water security through nature-based solutions.

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The Nature Conservancy (TNC) based in Kingston has embarked on the process of designing a Water Fund for Kingston after a situation analysis was conducted in May-July, 2018, turning the spotlight on the Wag Water River, Hope River, Yallahs River and Rio Cobre Watershed Management Units.

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The Hermitage Dam during a drought period.

This analysis concluded that Kingston “faces significant challenges in all dimensions of water security.” Domestic challenges include a lack of piped potable water and sewerage services in some areas; the use of septic tanks and soak-away pits, contaminating the aquifer; only about 30 percent of inhabitants with central sewerage. An aging network of pipes and a growing population sparking increased demand for water are economic challenges. Poor infrastructure for wastewater and storm water, besides high levels of “non-revenue” water (water that doesn’t get paid for) are major issues for urban dwellers. The latter has decreased from 60 to 36 percent, but is still much too high. Environmental water security challenges are worsened by fewer green spaces and a higher density of buildings as well as – more concrete. Groundwater is depleted and sewage and drainage systems cannot cope with heavy rain.

It’s a multiplicity of long-standing problems that we city dwellers are all too familiar with. Add to this the increasingly obvious impacts of climate change, and it does not add up to a pretty picture.

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The Wag Water River in St. Mary. (Photo: Yardedge.net)

So, where does one start? The key to all of this, the TNC believes, is to protect the water at its source. This means protecting the watersheds – the hills and valleys and rivers above Kingston. In particular, the Wag Water Watershed Management Unit (with the Hermitage sub-watershed above it) is cause for grave concern. It is a severely degraded and under-funded. Yet it is supposed to supply around 40 percent of the potable water needed by the Greater Kingston area.

Step by step! The work to establish a Water Fund begins with desktop reviews, interviews with stakeholders, observations and group discussions, continuing the work of Dr. Thera Edwards, who prepared the Situation Analysis. A management council (including academia, government and non-governmental organizations) has already met. The design phase is expected to take six to nine months, beginning in March or April, 2020. It is hoped that 2021 will be the launch year for the Fund.

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A sign on a classroom wall. (My photo)

On December 10, 2019 TNC convened a Stakeholder Analysis Workshop, where participants engaged in the rigorous, detailed Latin American Water Funds Partnership (LAWFP) Stakeholder Process. Funding is provided by the Coca Cola Foundation; water is one of their priority areas. Right now, the TNC is engaged in identifying new stakeholders, bringing more people on board who are (or should be) concerned; while raising awareness, discussing concerns and agreeing (or not) on the way forward. It is a brainstorming period, alongside collecting data from all the relevant government agencies to inform discussion and work at solutions.

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A street in Allman Town, Kingston, one of the many areas that face water and infrastructure problems. (My photo)

Now, in case you are wondering, this is not a one-off initiative. Globally, there are already 29 Water Funds in operation, and 30 in design, including Kingston’s. Oh, and the cost? The estimated cost for the design phase is US$250,000. Financing models might include endowments, grants and subsidies, private sector investments, and philanthropy.

Please note: Goal Four of Jamaica’s Vision 2030 (“Jamaica has a healthy natural environment”) with the emphasis on sustainable use of natural resources does fit in nicely with Sustainable Development Goal #6: Clean Water and Sanitation.

Nature will help us, if we support nature. The TNC is looking at ecosystem-based “soft measures.” The Water Fund can support solutions for issues such as deforestation, which affects rainfall and increases soil erosion; and problematic but widespread agricultural practices (“slash and burn” land clearance, and so on), which also cause the soil to run off, clog pipes and increase the cost of water treatment. Measures would include training in sustainable land management, agroforestry and reforestation techniques (including getting rid of all that invasive bamboo). Private owners of forested lands also need support. The Water Fund can advocate for resources and partnerships and communicate with the public, promoting water efficiency, reporting of theft and leaks, and so on.

Who is missing (at the moment) from this equation? It was noted at the stakeholders’ meeting that representatives of the business and finance sectors were absent. It was also noted that in other countries where they are established, “Water funds are driven by the private sector.” Our public sector was well represented at the workshop, although the Ministry of Finance would need to be involved, too. Community members from Golden Spring and other areas also actively participated.

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Sunset over Kingston Harbour. (My photo)

Now, it seems to be time for the business sector to step up to the plate. Businesses, small and large, need water, too. They use water – some of them use lots of it. Private, public and business sector would have to work together on this. Businesses are critical stakeholders.

TNC’s Donna Blake insisted at the workshop that the proposed Water Fund is “not a TNC thing, but a Jamaica thing!” Hence the need for local partnerships, leaving no one behind.

And yes – what is needed now, more than anything, is a “Water Fund Champion.”  

Now is the time! Now is the future of water.

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Dusk over Kingston. (My photo)

 

 


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