Drought intensifying in Jamaica as water supply systems well below normal, official warns

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A severe drought is intensifying in Jamaica with water supply systems already well below normal, the Caribbean country's environment minister said Sunday night

In a national address, Robert Pickersgill told Jamaicans the government is trucking water to hard-hit farming districts where parched conditions have withered crops. Many Jamaican small farms lack irrigation systems and depend entirely on rainwater.

Rainfall has been scarce for months and inflows into reservoirs are significantly reduced. Some water supply systems have "dried up entirely," Pickersgill said.

Reservoirs are dwindling so badly in areas serving the island's capital of Kingston that temporary shutoffs of the public water supply happen daily.

"This is a challenge and it is one that is made worse by higher temperatures and windy conditions that provide the perfect combination for bush fires, which, given the present water shortage, will be difficult to control and extinguish," Pickersgill said.

Two weeks ago, the government announced that wasting water was illegal. There has been a prohibition notice on activities like filling up swimming pools and watering lawns. Water wasters can be fined or even serve a 30-day jail sentence.

Authorities are increasing work crews to respond to leaks in water mains amid the worrying shortages. Two phone hotlines will be set up so people can report leaks.

Pickersgill said a policy is being developed to increase rainwater harvesting. "I firmly believe this is the route we must take in the face of climate change impacts which will intensify drought conditions," he said.

The minister noted that weather projections do not forecast increased rainfall even for the island's next rainy season starting in October, so the "already serious water supply situation we are experiencing will most likely worsen."

Other countries around the Caribbean are also struggling with drought. The island of St. Lucia is under emergency water restrictions and Venezuela has been rationing supplies.


David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd