George Graham

All Eyes on Syria but What about the Caribbean?

As the world watches in justifiable dread, Russian warships head for Syrian waters and America’s leaders prepare to plunge once again into an adventure that has no predictable outcome. This is one of those “unknown unknowns” that Donald Rumsfeld used to talk about. And the suspense is riveting.

Meanwhile, in the much-ignored Caribbean, a very predictable tragedy is unfolding.

It’s part of the global climate change saga, in which most of the media seem to have lost interest. But it is every bit as life threatening as a war.

It is the threat of contaminated water – contaminated on such a scale that it could be devastating to the islands. In this morning’s news, the Associated Press took the trouble to look at the looming disaster, and the report is sobering. Here’s an excerpt:

 Rising sea levels could contaminate supplies of fresh water and changing climate patterns could result in less rain to supply reservoirs in the coming decades, scientists and officials warned at a conference in St. Lucia this week.

Doesn’t sound that bad, does it?

But I spent a chunk of my childhood in Jamaica’s St. Elizabeth parish, and I know what it’s like to be without water. I have experienced drought. And it’s no trivial hardship. I remember scooping the last  few drops from the “tank” adjoining our house at Stanmore, near Malvern, as – with no rain for weeks – the water supply was all but exhausted. I remember straining the moss and debris from the water before boiling it and letting it cool in a clay pot. When that was gone, I remember having to buy water from the big reservoir a mile down the road, one of those reservoirs my granduncle, Rev. W. T. Graham, had managed to get built while he was in the Legislature.

Before the reservoirs, I was told, the people of St. Elizabeth, especially those in the severest rain-shadow areas like Pedro Plains, became so drought stricken that they were forced from their homes and walked the island, begging – like gypsies – for odd jobs or handouts to sustain them.

You see, without water, all bets are off. Crops die, the earth dries up and the red dust smothers everything in sight. There’s no way of living without water. (Photo above shows a water truck crossing a drought-ravaged landscape in Jamaica just a few years ago.)

Of course, the ravages of war are immediate, while those of climate change take decades. But they are as devastating nonetheless. And already, all over the world, the impact of mankind’s reckless pollution practices are being felt. Sea levels are rising, the ice cap is melting, record heat and unprecedented weather “events” are proliferating.

This morning’s AP story tells us that:

Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados have ordered  (water) rationing this year, with Barbados reducing pressure and occasionally cutting off supply to some areas. The island also began to recycle water, with officials collecting treated wastewater to operate airport toilets.

 A far cry from nerve gas and Cruise missiles, of course. But still a step down a very dark road. And it’s a road that is far from uncharted. We know where it leads, and we know what to do to avoid it.

Click here for the AP story.

Click here to read about coping with drought in St. Elizabeth today.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for