About the Author: Emma Lewis serves as Public Affairs Assistant at U.S. Embassy Kingston in Jamaica."We must all get involved!" This was the urgent call from Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas Fellow Gerry Galloway, during a visit to Jamaica on July 26 and 27, 2010. Dr. Galloway, who is the Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering at the University of Maryland, focused on water resource management in the context of climate change during his meetings and discussions with key government agencies, academics, non-governmental and community-based organizations, and Jamaican youth. From the start, it quickly became clear that the United States and Jamaica, despite great differences in size, demographics, and geography, are already experiencing similar impacts from climate change -- drought and floods, rises in sea water levels, and more frequent and stronger storms. The question is: how can nations -- and their citizens -- strengthen their capacity to deal with the even greater challenges to come?
A common theme throughout Dr. Galloway's visit was the uncertain future that climate change has created. Dr. Galloway warned against complacency and short-term thinking, because in his words, "Tomorrow is not going to be like yesterday." He urged audiences to look "deep into the future" and to be prepared for the worst. With a simple diagram, he explained how the narrow "tunnel vision" of the past must give way to an expanding, cone-shaped view of ever-increasing possibilities, dangers -- and opportunities, in the future. Meeting the climate and clean energy challenge will take creativity, vision, and cooperation.
During a vibrant discussion at the U.S. Embassy, Dr. Galloway stressed the need for public participation. "You, the young people, must inform, collaborate and plan," he urged members of youth clubs and community-based organizations, many of them based in neighborhoods where water is already scarce. His co-presenter, young Jamaican environmentalist and geographer Suzanne Stanley, concluded that the issue of water scarcity in Jamaica's urban areas is primarily a political and institutional one; and that it is rather "water poverty" -- a situation where the nation "cannot afford the cost of sustainable clean water to all people at all times." Again, this points to a new approach by leaders and technocrats, and as both presenters agreed, science-based decision making.
The audience of over 70 people at the event had much to say. How can young people take the lead? What are the best ways to conserve water? Can desalination work? What about bringing down energy costs by using solar and wind power? And as one young man asked, "Will we be fighting over water one day?"
But the evening was not all talk. The energized audience also browsed booths set up by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), which is headed by a Humphrey Fellow; sipped hot drinks provided by Nestle Jamaica, which recently supported JET's Environmental Action Award for water conservation; and watched demonstrations of domestic water-saving devices by a young "green entrepreneur." The talented Voices for Climate Change Education Project, supported by local non-governmental organization Panos Caribbean, brought the evening to a close with their inspirational musical messages.
The visit was an opportunity for important exchanges of information on water management. Jamaica's Water Resources Authority, which protects, manages and allocates water on the island, and the National Water Commission, which provides potable water and waste treatment services, each invited Dr. Galloway for half-day meetings to share information and discuss solutions with its leadership and senior engineers. At the Water Resources Authority, young and enthusiastic staff members made presentations on data collecting, licensing and water quality monitoring. National Water Commission President E.G. Hunter gave Dr. Galloway a frank and open assessment of the challenges impacting his agency's ability to deliver water, including unsustainable development practices such as informal settlements (squatting); the high cost of energy; natural disasters such as hurricanes, which often bring flooding; delinquent customers, especially in low-income areas; and economic challenges, including necessary budget cuts.
While the problems may seem overwhelming, Mr. Hunter and Dr. Galloway agreed that the first step is to get legislators fully engaged on the issues. "We need to communicate the problem better," Mr. Hunter conceded. Political leaders tend to be reactive and not strategic in their approach; but an enabling regulatory and policy environment over the long term is crucial. So is a supportive social environment, in which the public at large appreciate the value of water. After all, noted Mr. Hunter, his agency's oft-repeated slogan is simply, "Water is Life.”
Dr. Galloway's public lecture at Kingston's University of Technology was warmly received by a mixture of teaching staff, researchers, environmentalists and members of the public. During the lengthy question and answer session, the message for the future came across loud and clear: "Be sustainable. Be flexible. Be resilient."