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    Posted on Friday, 09.06.13

    Climate change threatens Caribbean’s water supply
    BY DANICA COTO
    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    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
    replenished.”

    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
    prevent contamination.

    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
    Association board.

    The biggest challenge overall is changing the mentality of water utility
    authorities who see their role as solely providing clean water, Johnson
    said.

    “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
    issue.”

    Source: “SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico: Climate change threatens Caribbean’s
    water supply – World Wires – MiamiHerald.com” –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/09/06/3608583/climate-change-threatens-caribbeans.html

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