News

'This is inhumane!'

Waltham Gardens residents say they have to pay for 'free' water, or do without

BY SHANAE STEWART
Observer staff reporter
stewarts@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 26, 2019

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RESIDENTS of West Guango, a community in Waltham Gardens, St Andrew, are fed up with what they say is the inhumane and unjust treatment they are receiving from State agents in their search for water.

According to the residents, not only have they been without water for about seven months while roadworks continue under the Government's Major Infrastructure Development Programme, but they are being asked to pay for water that is trucked to the area by agents of the State, that they should be receiving for free.

“We have a big water crisis from last year and when the National Works Agency (NWA) truck comes, they don't want to give us the water for free — they want to sell it and that's not good,” said resident George Whitely, in alleging that the NWA, which has oversight responsibility for various aspects of the implementation of the construction projects, is also trucking water for sale.

Another resident says he has lodged complaints about the practice, but nothing has been done.

“When I pay my [water] bills I lodge complaints and I have called in to the customer care centre and nothing, no feedback,” said the resident, who did not want to be identified.

“We buy from trucks that will pass by. Some mark NWA and sometimes other companies...”

When contacted, Stephen Shaw, manager of communication and customer services at NWA, said that he would be looking into the situation to see if there were any special arrangements made to have NWA trucks deliver water in the community, because usually NWA trucks only have water to do NWA-related work.

But the residents say they have to do what they must to get the precious commodity.

“We use water to do everything, and when you come around and sell one person the water and everybody else has none, that is ridiculous. And if you can't buy the water from them, they jump in the trucks and drive off. Sometimes I even try to buy and they don't sell me because they have their clients already,” Whitely explained.

Another resident, Larry Creary, shared similar sentiments.

“Mi nah get nuh water and I have been complaining from January. I complain to who reads the meter, and who pass by in the NWC (National Water Commission) trucks. Sometimes I might get the chance to get a little water from the NWA when they are serving somebody else and I run with my little bucket and get what is left before they roll up the hose,” he said.

“I not even want to be too close to your face, 'cause of dragon breath because nuh water nuh deh ya,” he said to this Jamaica Observer reporter when we visited the community.

“My little chicken dem right now are on some hard breathing, and anything me catch is either to brush my teeth, wash my face, make a cup of tea, or flush the toilet. It is very hard,” Creary continued.

“It [water issues] start little before Christmas ennuh. Water is life. This is inhumane! You might be able to deal with the light [going], 'cause we can burn kerosene and walk with candle or whatever. But no water? Not even a drop?

“You know what I have to do? I have to walk from here to the bottom of Penwood Road, then go all the way pass Waltham, almost like you're going to Two Miles, and I may get some [water].”

He said he also has to look out for other residents who are unable to help themselves.

“Sometimes mi even affi a grab my bucket to help the little old ladies so they can have a little water, because when I look on them, they can't manage and they don't have any family members to come bring the water for them.

“One of the times we only used to get water one time in the night, maybe for an hour or 45 minutes, and the only way you'd get it is if you have a pipe low to the ground. This is inhumane man. Inhumane!” an obviously frustrated Creary said.

He then expressed that he would appreciate if there were specific cut-off periods so that residents could properly plan and store water when available. To not have any at all for several months, almost up to a year, to Creary, is unacceptable.

Tyeanna Jones was also clearly at her wits' end when the Observer visited the community.

“For the past 11 months my neighbourhood has been going through a severe water crisis. We have not been receiving water for weeks at a time, sometimes even months at a time. The NWC trucks that are supposed to supply us with water have been targeting small businesses and households with tanks so that they can sell the water. Whenever we approach a NWA or NWC water truck passing through my community, they tell us that we have to pay for the water and they charge us $500 to $700 per barrel or $10 per gallon. If we refuse or ask any other questions, they drive away without giving us water.

“In many instances, I am forced to purchase my water from private businesses because I refuse to pay extra for a service for which I have already paid,” she said.

“We regularly have to decide how to use the limited amount of water my family has managed to scrounge away. The conditions in some of the houses are deplorable. The inability to use water to clean and cook has led to poor hygiene that will inevitably result in disease and sickness.”

Jones said, too, that daily routines are also disrupted.

“In my neighbourhood, if you hear water being distributed somewhere you stop whatever you are doing to leave your home with as many bottles as you can carry, walk to the place of distribution, join a long line, and then carry the water home,” she said.

“This has been my neighbourhood's monthly ritual for almost a year. Continuing to ration a couple large bottles of water over a month has become unbearable. And how much extra money am I being asked to pay for this measly supply of water? My household received a monthly bill of $1,500! I pay this despite having no water supplied or service provided.”

Other residents who saw that reports were being made to the Observer, decided to share too what they kept describing as unbearable.

“Me just come on the avenue about three months now and we have to buy water from the trucks that pass. Two times the water commission come and give us water for free, but the other trucks sell it for like $500 to fill a barrel,” Patrick Gordon said.

Said another resident who did not want to be named: “We haven't been getting water for couple months straight. Mi cyaan even remember when last I have. We have to buy drums and I ended up having to buy a tank, mi affi pay people for instalment fee, and me still have to a pay water bill every month!”

He added: “You see, the NWA have a truck that passes through regularly, but when you ask for water, is either them tell you that you have to buy it or them tell you that they don't have any water. But two weeks ago I saw a NWC truck pass through and I got water for free.”

Charles Buchanan, corporate public relations manager at NWC, said that NWC trucks should not charge when delivering water to NWC customers.

However, he said that sometimes people may deliver water on behalf of NWC on one day and on another day they might not be delivering on behalf of them. And in that case the NWC would have no control over what is charged.

Still, he did not dispute that there may be some truth to what the residents are saying, and is instead imploring residents to be willing to provide details of the occasions (date, time, particulars on trucks), where they feel that the water should have been free but it was not.


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