Drought grips Jamaica, vegetable shortage seen

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WIRE:03/20/2000 09:49:00 ET Drought grips Jamaica, vegetable shortage seen KINGSTON, Jamaica, March 20 (Reuters) - Jamaica is grappling with a disastrous drought that has wilted crops, drained reservoirs and forced authorities to make plans to truck water to parched parishes. Rainfall has tumbled to a quarter of normal in some regions of the usually lush Caribbean island of 2.5 million people. Jamaica's Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) reported crop losses of about US$6 million for the last six months and officials warned of an impending shortage of vegetables.

Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, in an interview with Reuters, described the situation as "disastrous right throughout the island, especially with regard to domestic agriculture."

The National Meteorological Office said only three parishes recorded normal levels of rainfall for January --- Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Mary. The other eleven had below average rainfall for December and January, with Clarendon at only 24 percent and Westmoreland at 27 percent of normal.

Drought conditions result from less than 60 percent of normal rainfall over eight consecutive weeks.

Officials of the National Water Commission said the drought has resulted in a reduction of the volume of water in streams.

For most of Jamaica's farmers, the drought is made worse by the fact that there are no major irrigation systems outside of the sugar belt parishes of Clarendon and St. Catherine.

While dry weather is good for reaping cane, Clarke said the cane being harvested is of poor quality due to the lack of rain. He predicted there would soon be a shortage of vegetables arising from drought on the plains of the southern parish of St. Elizabeth, where most of Jamaica's vegetables are grown.

Members of the National Drought Committee -- including the Meteorological Service, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), National Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and the National Water Commission -- met last week to discuss emergency measures.

"We agreed to the trucking of water to the affected areas, both for domestic and agricultural purposes," ODPEM Deputy Director Barbara Roache Clarke said.

The National Drought Committee also asked people to practice conservation.

Water supplies at Jamaica's main water storage facilities were on the decline. As of March 17, the water level at the Hermitage Dam stood at 212.3 million gallons, far below its capacity of 393.5 million.

At the Mona Reservoir, which has a maximum capacity of 808.5 million gallons, the water level on Friday was 545.1 million gallons.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 20, 2000

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