Tuesday, April 23, 2024

ON THE RIGHT: No easy solution to water crisis


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LOCAL FRESHWATER SUPPLIES in the Eastern Caribbean are not as abundant as the salt water that surrounds them, and something must be done about it. This chronic situation has attracted numerous descriptions including water stress, water shortage and water crisis.

However, the sustainability megatrend to track should be the total water availability, that is the ratio of the replenishment of water supplies by rainfall to the extraction from surface, ground and desalination sources.

The current water deficit of six of the most vulnerable islands is estimated at 175 million gallons per month or about 27 per cent of current monthly consumption. While functioning on a water deficit platform can eventually pose a serious existential threat to these societies, the current situation does provides a business opportunity in importing water, worth in excess of US$37 million annually.

To do so, however, Caribbean authorities and water specialists will have to re‐direct their strategies from the current Water Demand Management approach that seeks only to reallocate a limited freshwater supply to the frustration of all stakeholders, towards a more progressive water portfolio management approach that would lock‐in water imports where available, as an essential part of the solution matrix for building a secure water future.

Hard as it may be to believe, there is very little difference between the likelihood of experiencing chronic shortages of fresh‐water supplies in our sun, sand and sea islands of the Caribbean and the same in the Western Sahara.

In both regions, the challenges of freshwater supplies are growing beyond all reasonable proportions and our technical personnel are now seeking a wider audience.

The way we talk about water issues significantly affects the way we design the solutions to address them.

Thus when water scarcity is tied to drought and seasonal rainfall patterns, the prevailing paradigm is that of a temporary shortfall requiring a temporary fix.

The ascendency of water demand management becomes a pre‐determined solution.

The current approach to water scarcity in the Caribbean is built on water demand management.

Indeed, the Caribbean’s role in the international tourism market reinforces the need to execute water demand management action plans including: attempts to change public and private attitudes to water scarcity, waste reduction, wastewater recycling; continued introduction of new and more efficient water supply technologies (desalination); and a continued reliance on fiscal subsidies of local water consumption; but this does not limit us to a fragmented uncoordinated approach to “water resource stewardship” which the recurrent crises demand from our governments.

The water portfolio management approach seeks to reduce water deficits on the basis of shared resources.

In a convergent world in which regional cooperation is the most reliable source of economic survival, this approach creates a new opportunity without creating a new dependency.

It is consistent with the view that in a more heterogeneous world, small island economies will continue to be forced into “regional self‐reliance” as a means of preserving their local identities.

Dr Allan Williams is an economist and a director of the Caribbean Water Transshipment Company Limited in Dominica.


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