Water not the problem; the absence of engineering is


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

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Engineering science is the answer to our water problem

Don't forget your history

Know your destiny

In the abundance of water

The fool is thirsty!

— Bob Marley, Rat race

Each year we go through the same exercise of lamenting the drought and its negative impact on agriculture and society. The article 'Big loss', published in the Jamaica Observer, July 23, 2018, is just one of the many newspaper articles illustrating the devastation of the farming sector by this perennial problem.

Long before talk of climate change the problem persisted. I am not denying the existence of climate change, I am making the point that there is an abundance of water in Jamaica. The problem is that we have never managed, as an independent nation, to develop the capacities in the engineering sciences to store and distribute this precious yet ample resource.

Take St Elizabeth, for example, north St Elizabeth has an abundance of water. Peppers sits on a lake, and so too is Nain. Is it true that the water from Peppers is pumped over Spur Tree Hill to Mandeville? There is an abundance of water in Nain: Is it that the bauxite companies have 'captured' water resource that belongs to this sovereign territory? Just asking.

If water can be pumped over Spur Tree Hill to Mandeville, then why can't water from north St Elizabeth be pumped to the south?

The British colonial Government, with its military engineers, built reservoirs in the hills. They tapped the water from the source and distributed it to the people by way of gravity force. Look at the great project that takes the water from the hills of west rural St Andrew to the dam a little outside of Stony Hill. Or look at the military person that was one of the early owners of Mona Estates and the project to dam and guide the water into an aqueduct for several purposes on that plantation. These are major project that have had long-lasting positive impact on agriculture and development.

I understand that after Independence the new engineering system developed reliance on electricity -operated wells. The emphasis is no longer collect, save and redistribute. So each year we lament at the banks of the dry rivers as we call for divine intervention to bring water forth. It will not happen by that alone. The answer to the crisis is to be found in understanding and applying engineering science to this water problem and not just trying to deal with the periods of drought or mere efforts to control floods so that we may keep our people safe.

Greek and Roman aqueducts and other forms of engineering scientific expressions made those civilisations great and productive. The French, German, English and the Americans all have put the engineering capacities of their armies in the service of national development. Recent studies in development of new industrial states speak of the critical role of the military in scientific research and development. Since our army is put to the task of crime fighting we may have to import engineers that can make mega projects to help us deal with our water problem. We may not be able to solve all the related issues but we can definitely do much better.

I experienced a river in north St Elizabeth, somewhere near Maggotty. It rolls with such force that the absence of a hydroelectric plant puzzles me. We need roads and highways, but the water issue requires urgent attention. We may have to turn to the Chinese to look at a few macro-projects that will be geared to store, distribute and generate electricity.

Water is not really the problem; it is the absence of the application of engineering science that is a central feature in our everyday-lived experience: That is the fundamental characteristic of this water problem.

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