Posted on Friday, 09.06.13
Climate change threatens Caribbean’s water supply
BY DANICA COTO
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Experts are sounding a new alarm about the
effects of climate change for parts of the Caribbean — the depletion of
already strained drinking water throughout much of the region.
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.
“Inaction is not an option,” said Lystra Fletcher-Paul, Caribbean land
and water officer for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. “The
water resources will not be available.”
Some of the possible solutions include limits on development, increased
use of desalination plants and better management of existing water
supplies, but all face challenges in a region where many governments
carry heavy debts and have few new sources of revenue.
Many Caribbean nations rely exclusively on underground water for their
needs, a vulnerable source that would be hit hard by climate change
effects, said Jason Johnson, vice president of the Caribbean Water and
Wastewater Association, a Trinidad-based nonprofit group.
“That’s the greatest concern,” he said. “Those weather patterns may
change, and there may not necessarily be the means for those water
supplies to be replenished at the pace that they have historically been
Parts of the Caribbean have been experiencing an unusually dry spell
that emerged last year.
In August 2012, some islands reported extremely dry weather, including
Grenada and Anguilla. By July of this year, those conditions had spread
to Trinidad, Antigua, St. Vincent and Barbados, the Caribbean Institute
for Meteorology & Hydrology says.
“We’re seeing changes in weather patterns,” said Avril Alexander,
Caribbean coordinator for the nonprofit Global Water Partnership. “…
When you look at the projected impact of climate change, a lot of the
impact is going to be felt through water.”
Intense rains have been reported in recent months in some Caribbean
areas, but that doesn’t mean an increase in fresh water supply, said
Bernard Ettinoffe, president of the Caribbean Water and Sewerage
Association Inc., a St. Lucia-based group that represents water
utilities in the region.
Heavy rains mean there’s not enough time for water to soak into the
ground as it quickly runs off, he said. In addition, the cost of water
treatment increases, and many islands instead shut their systems to
The island considered most at risk is Barbados, which ranks 21st out of
168 countries in terms of water demand exceeding available surface water
supplies, according to a 2012 study by British risk analysis firm
Maplecroft. Other Caribbean islands high on the list are Cuba and the
Dominican Republic, which ranked 45 and 48, respectively. The study did
not provide data on a smattering of eastern Caribbean islands that
officials say are among the driest in the region.
“There are a number of indications that the total amount of rainfall in
much of the Caribbean would be decreasing by the end of the century,”
said Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist with the Caribbean Institute
for Meteorology & Hydrology.
Van Meerbeeck said water supplies will continue to decrease if
individuals as well as agriculture and tourism, the region’s key
industries, do not monitor use.
“Climate is maybe not the biggest factor, but it’s a drop in an already
full bucket of water,” he said. “It will have quite dramatic
consequences if we keep using water the way we do right now.”
Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados have ordered 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.
Overuse of wells elsewhere has caused saltwater seepage and a
deterioration of potable water underground, leading to the construction
of hundreds of desalination plants in the Caribbean.
But the cost of desalination still remains unaffordable for many
governments, said John Thompson, director of the Caribbean Desalination
The biggest challenge overall is changing the mentality of water utility
authorities who see their role as solely providing clean water, Johnson
“The new reality is that it’s a national security issue if your water
supplies are diminished,” Johnson said. “It becomes a health and safety
Source: “SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico: Climate change threatens Caribbean’s
water supply – World Wires – MiamiHerald.com” –