New life flows into Northern Clarendon communitiesMay 23, 2017
• How the Colouden Brae Head Pipeline Project brought back farms, businesses and jobs
For 50 years, residents of communities near Crooked River in the hills of Clarendon could only cook, clean and make a living if they collected river and rain water – armed with buckets.
A whole generation of youth had never turned a tap to collect water.
The few who could, dug wells or trucked in potable water, and those who could secure some of their supplies were counted blessed.
Over the years, shifting rainfall patterns due to climate change had reduced potable water to this cluster of hilly communities collectively numbering more than 6 000 residents.
Located northwest of the parish capital, May Pen, about one hour’s drive up the northern Clarendon hills, and 90 minutes from Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, this rural community with sweeping hill and valley views relied on crops and animal rearing for livelihoods.
But as potable water dwindled, livelihoods were threatened, even reduced, and increasing use by animals and people contaminated rivers and streams, posing a health risk.
While residents struggled to gather water for everyday needs, not far beneath their feet were ground aquifers bursting with water. As a powerful sign, water continuously flowed from a source spring fed by these ground sources near Brae Head, and into the river from which most collected their everyday supplies.
Tapping into solutions to a climate change challenge
Samuel Fearon, President, Colouden-Krall Community Action Committee and Reco Chambers, its Community Coordinator, concluded that the green and fertile communities of Colouden, Brae Head, Pepper Spring and Crooked River did not have a water availability problem; they had a water access problem.
Fearon and Chambers approached the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-implemented GEF SGP, in Jamaica with a project idea to harvest the water. With a US$45,000 grant funded by Government of Australia, Department of Foreign and Trade (DFAT) and technical support from UNDP-implemented GEF SGP and other partners, the communities actively developed and implemented this water harvesting project. The identified solutions were based on site-specific community struggles while simultaneously addressing the short-and long-term climate change impacts stated in Jamaica’s national communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Combined with the in kind contributions and sweat equity from residents valued up to US$48 000, potable water has returned to these hilly communities, and water collection treks to the river have all but dried up.
Innovating to combat poverty
Today, innovative, gravity-fed systems channel water from a spring at Brae Head to a 22,000 gallon tamper-proof catchment tank. The water is channelled from the tank to six strategically-located community pipes, also called ‘stand pipes’ by Jamaicans. The project-introduced gravity-fed pipe system is a new technology that has been replicated throughout Jamaica.
But Mr. Chambers says the water is serving three times the designated number and benefitting several hundreds more. In order to serve as many as possible, he said, community leadership took the decision to put water supply on a schedule, releasing water into standpipe locations based on supply and demand.
With a tank placed in their own yards, some residents are able to draw potable water from the taps in their own homes.
Farming and other livelihoods resuscitate
“We are very much satisfied with this project,” Samuel Fearon declares. “We can see it has made a difference in everyone’s life … people are now able to get water on a regular basis. He points to other spin offs such as “children go to school early and are no longer late; new shops are being set up; new houses and buildings being constructed; and people of esteemed reputation coming to live in the area”.
“It has definitely impacted farming. People are expanding into other crops,” Samuel Fearon added.
The return of chicken and pig rearing has been particularly encouraging for farmers and consumers.
Coleen Lewin, one of the younger set who had never seen ‘piped water’ in the community, is a chicken farmer who has experienced happier times since the construction of the standpipes.
Before the project, she used to raise up to 1,000 chickens but had to spend up to 23,000 Jamaican dollars per month on transporting water for them.
“I used to have to drive a car or charter a vehicle to get the water from Crooked River” she said. She cut out chicken production as a result.
Today, she is slowly rebuilding her once prosperous chicken business and has just bought 150. “My plans for this business are bigger than ever,” she smiled.
Oneil Fearon agreed. “It’s better now. I raise more chickens now,” he said.
Cousins Orville and Veronica Boudiere raise pigs. “I enjoy (having) the water), he says emphatically, “I can raise a pig, two fowl, get up early, and bathe. God has blessed. Thank you.”
Veronica, a leading light in the community is known for her catering, cakes, chocolate balls and herbal preparations like castor oil. Samuel Fearon is proud of her for being instrumental in organizing the community project that raised the water project co financing sum, and for providing food for participants. She humbly smiles without adding a word.
Residents contribute sweat equity, land and funds
The walkathon she organized raised 29 000 Jamaican dollars, Samuel explained. Ms Boudiere and the community contributed tea, breakfast and drinks, and cooked for the participants. In kind contributions towards the construction of the water harvesting system came in the form of labour and donations of chickens, pigs and other groceries to feed the workmen, Samuel explained.
A significant contribution came in the form of land donated by the Caine family (Miss Hazel) for the construction of the water tank and running of pipes – 15 hectares in all. Another major contribution expanded access to the communities: About one mile of inaccessible roadway state was paved with funding from the Government of Jamaica as cash/in-kind co-financing to the project.
Leonie Barnaby, chair of the National Steering Committee of the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme in Jamaica is particularly impressed with the community involvement and ownership. “A lot has come from the community. This is one of the main success factors”. As she reviews the project she concludes, “… It has made a difference, and had a definite clear impact … even in drought conditions, we are going to be okay.”
She also noted that the project can be replicated in other communities, which means it can be offered as a sustainable solution for similar communities.
The promise of transformation is summed up simply by residents like Karen Caine: “I used to carry water on (my) head) and travel to river down the road … And now, I have water in the pipe, and no longer have to go to river.”
Results by the numbers
- Number of households impacted: Triple the number of households benefitting from new water supply (Nearly 2000)
- Capacity developed: 25 households, small businesses such as grocers, hardware suppliers are already engaged in vulnerability reduction/adaptive capacity development activities; Training of community operators in Material implementation and maintenance of the water harvesting system; Community members learned about new Plumbing technology; One mile of road paved by the Government of Jamaica
- Beneficiary involvement: Residents provided co financing of $29 000 Jamaican dollars, land for the construction of the tank plus sweat equity in the form of labour and food supplies for labourers
- Innovation: Three innovations: (1) Gravity fed technology for harvesting water from the spring into a tank; (2) New piping technologies with a 100-year life-span connected to a source stream and six standpipes strategically located; (3) A water tank with unique features set-up for safety and security