Caribbean countries amongst the most water stressed globally

March 22, 2023

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Mar 22, CMC – The United Nations World Water Development Report 2023 was launched here on Wednesday amid concerns that Caribbean countries are amongst the most water stress globally.

Addressing a press briefing on behalf of the head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Sub-regional Headquarters for the Caribbean, Artie Dubrie said she was certain that the report would be a leading document during the UN Water Conference that got underway in New York on Wednesday.

Dubrie, who is the coordinator, Sustainable Development and Disaster Unit at ECLAC,  said the Caribbean region is heavily dependent on rainfall as its major source of freshwater, obtained from direct rain and through surface and ground water systems.

“Freshwater is often classified as a scarce finite natural resource. Sustainable management of water resources including access to safe,  fresh water and sanitation are indispensable for human  health and well-being,” she said, adding that it is a key driver of economic and social development and is also critical in maintaining the integrity of the natural environment and ecosystems.

She said to meet this finite natural resource’s current and future demands requires water resources management structures to be integrated and systematised across the social, economic, environmental, and developmental realms of sustainable development. “

The ECLAC official acknowledged that the freshwater resource supplies vary across the subregion and that this variation is due to such factors as the climate, climate change impacts, rainfall pattern and intensity, geology, safe availability and accessibility through established infrastructure and institutional systems.

“With respect to fresh-water resources, the Caribbean countries are amongst the most water stress globally. The World Resources Institute has identified seven Caribbean countries as having “extremely high” levels of water stress,” she said.

These countries are Dominica, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St. Kitts-Nevis, with the latter three also being designated as water scarce.

Dubrie said for the Caribbean multi-island states, fresh-water availability can also vary across the archipelago, noting for example, in the case of the Bahamas there is a notable decrease in groundwater availability from the northern to the southern islands.

She said these subjects  addressed in the World Water Development Report  are crucial in the work of the entire region, but especially for the Caribbean countries.

“For the Caribbean region climate change and its impacts  poses significant risks to the sustainable development of countries this sub-region,” Dubrie said that the major and most frequent climate related disasters in the Caribbean small island developing states (SIDS) are hydroclimatic, with impact of floodings, landslides, watershed degradation,  droughts, storm surges, sea-level rise, coastal erosion and freshwater salination among others.

Dubrie said that these factors result in reduced availability of freshwater resources to meet  both human and requirements for healthy ecosystems.

She said to give some recent examples of hydroclimatic events in the Caribbean region, the  heavy rainfall during May and July of 2021 and 2022 had significant impacts, particularly on Guyana and Suriname.

The ECLAC official said during the 2022 floods in Trinidad over 100,000 persons were affected.  The impacts of climatic events were compounded by the 2021 volcanic eruption of La Soufrière volcano, causing major population dislocation, damage and loss in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and Barbados.

Similar catastrophic multi-dimensional events were experienced in Haiti in 2021, with both a 7.2 magnitude earthquake coupled with hydroclimatic events. In the first quarter of 2023, many Caribbean countries are  being warned of looming drought conditions, Dubrie added.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2023: Partnerships and Cooperation, focuses on the need for cooperation among organisations and institutions – across all dimensions of sustainable development – to boost progress on achieving water and sanitation for all (SDG6) by 2030.

“Safeguarding water, food, and energy security through sustainable water management, providing water supply and sanitation services to all, supporting human health and livelihoods, mitigating the impacts of climate change and extreme events, and sustaining and restoring ecosystems and the valuable services they provide, are all pieces of a great and complex puzzle. Only through partnerships and cooperation can the pieces come together. And everyone has a role to play,” it noted.

In her address, the ECLAC official said that in preparation for the UN-World Water report, a Latin America and Caribbean Regional Water Action Dialogue was conducted and that the results from this dialogue concluded on key four pillars of action.

These are Promoting human rights to water and sanitation, leaving no one behind, promoting  regulatory and normative changes to ensure equitable and affordable access.

This includes  addressing water scarcity and promoting innovative practises such as rainwater harvesting

Reversal of growing negative externalities associated with  water pollution, over-extraction amongst others and promote moving for linear to circular management of water use.

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