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Climate Policy Goes Hand-in-Hand with Water Policy

Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Concerned that climate change could lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle, Caribbean stakeholders are working to ensure it is included in the region’s plans for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use.

Contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems. If water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops.

Meanwhile, around the world, variability in climate conditions, coupled with new socioeconomic and environmental developments, have already started having major impacts.

The Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), which recently brought international and regional stakeholders together for a conference in Trinidad, is aimed at better understanding the climate system and the hydrological cycle and how they are changing; boosting awareness of the impacts of climate change on society, as well as the risk and uncertainty in the context of water and climate change and especially variability; and examining adaptation options in relation to water and climate change.

“Basically we’re looking to integrate aspects of climate change and climate variability and adaptation into the Caribbean water sector,” Natalie Boodram, programme manager of the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP), told IPS.

“And this is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons, more intense hurricanes, when we do get rain we are going to get more intense rain events, flooding.

“All of that presents a substantial challenge for managing our water resources. So under the GWP-C WACDEP, we’re doing a number of things to help the region adapt to this,” she added.

Current variability and long-term climate change impacts are most severe in a large part of the developing world, and particularly affect the poorest.

Through its workshops, GWP-C provides an opportunity for partners and stakeholders to assess the stage of the IWRM process that various countries have reached and work together to operationalise IWRM in their respective countries.

Integrated Water Resources Management is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

IWRM helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health.

GWP-C regional co-ordinator, Wayne Joseph, said the regional body is committed to institutionalising and operationalising IWRM in the region.

“Our major programme is the WACDEP Programme, Water and Climate Development Programme, and presently we are doing work in four Caribbean Countries – Jamaica, Antigua, Guyana and St. Lucia,” he told IPS.

“We’re gender-sensitive. We ensure that the youth are incorporated in what we do and so we provide a platform, a neutral platform, so that issues can be discussed that pertain to water and good water resources management.”

The Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) is a non-profit, civil society body that focuses its resources on empowering Caribbean young people and their communities to develop programmes and actions to address socioeconomic and environmental issues.

Rianna Gonzales, the national coordinator of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter, has welcomed the initiative of the GWP-C as being very timely and helpful, adding that the region’s youth have a very important role to play in the process.

“I think it’s definitely beneficial for young people to be part of such a strategic group of people in terms of getting access to resources and experts…so that we will be better able to communicate on water related issues,” she told IPS.

The CYEN programme aims at addressing issues such as poverty alleviation and youth employment, health and HIV/AIDS, climatic change and global warming, impact of natural disasters/hazards, improvement in potable water, conservation and waste management and other natural resource management issues.

The GWP-C said the Caribbean region has been exposed to IWRM and it is its goal to work together with its partners and stakeholders at all levels to implement IWRM in the Caribbean.

“A very significant activity for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States has been to prepare a Water Sector Model Policy and Model Water Act which proposes to remedy the key water resources management issues through new institutional arrangements and mechanisms that include water and waste water master planning, private sector and community partnership and investment mechanisms,” GWP-C chair Judy Daniel told IPS.

IWRM has not been fully integrated in the policy, legal and planning frameworks in the Caribbean although several territories have developed/drafted IWRM Policies, Roadmaps and Action plans. Some of these countries include: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana, Jamaica; The Bahamas; Trinidad and Tobago; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Credit: Inter Press Service News Agency

Overview: The IPCC AR5 Report- Working Group II

Credit: CGIAR

Credit: CGIAR

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just published its latest Working Group II report detailing impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability associated with climate change. The highly anticipated report paints a bleak picture with respect to the consequences of continued climate change. The latest IPCC report predicts future food and water supply insecurities, and calls for both mitigation and adaptation.

“The latest IPCC Assessment Report should serve as a further wakeup call to our region,” ~5Cs

Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra K. Pachauri says he hopes the report on the rising threat of climate change will “jolt people into action”. The report found the strongest evidence of climate change in the thawing permafrost in the Arctic and in the destruction of coral reefs. It found many freshwater and marine species had shifted their geographical range due to climate change. But the report said climate change was growing more evident in human systems as well, where it posed a series of risks. Climate change was already beginning to affect crop yields, especially for wheat and maize, and the report says that yields could decline sharply towards the middle of the century.

The scientists found climate change was a driver of violent conflicts and migration, and was exacerbating inequality, making it harder for people to claw their way out of poverty. Climate change was also a factor in the rise of mega-disasters. The report said climate change was driving recent heatwaves and droughts, and was a risk factor for wildfires.

 The latest IPCC report: FIVE Key Points

1. Food threat

Climate change is already taking a sizeable chunk out of global food supply and it is going to get worse. Increases in crop yields – which are needed to sustain a growing population – have slowed over the last 40 years. Some studies now point to dramatic declines in some crops over the next 50 years – especially wheat, and to a lesser extent corn. Rice so far is unaffected. The shortages, and the threat of food price spikes, could lead to unrest.

2. Human security

Climate change poses a threat to human security, and could lead to increased migration. Potential shortages of food and water, because of climate change, could be drivers of future conflicts. These won't necessarily be wars between states, but conflicts between farmers and ranchers, or between cities and agriculture industry which wants water for food. On the flip side, those conflicts are going to get in the way of government's efforts to protect people from future climate change.

3. Inequality

Some are more vulnerable than others. Poor people in poor countries – and even the poor in rich countries – are going to bear an unfair burden of climate change, the report said. Climate change is going to exacerbate existing inequalities, and it is going to make it harder for people to claw their way out of poverty.

4. No-one is safe

As temperatures rise beyond 2 degrees to 4 degrees – our current trajectory – there are limits to how far society can adapt to climate change. The only way out is to cut emissions now – and buy some time by slowing warming – and at the same time make plans for sea walls, relocations, and other measures that can keep people out of harms' way.

5. Hard but not hopeless.

The report notes that research on the effects of climate change has doubled since the last report in 2007 – and so has understanding about what needs to done to insulate people from more severe consequences.

 As the world digests the sobering findings of the latest installment of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a reminder of what the panel is designed to do: To inform policy decisions, including the negotiations towards the UN global climate change agreement in Paris in 2015. See this and other infographics at http://bit.ly/1ggttKT

Credit: UNFCCC

Credit: UNFCCC

Credit: The UK Guardian and The IPCC


Tackling the Caribbean’s Climate-driven Water Resource Problems…

Dr. Jason PolkAssociate Director of Science at the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute, says climate-driven water resource problems in the Caribbean could give rise to another intractable problem, community resistance to increased costs and regulations, if a concerted effort to educate the public  about the challenges and possible solutions is delayed. Read  his exclusive contribution to Caribbean Climate.

Dr. Jason Polk (centre), along with fellow WKU faculty members Dr. Xingang Fan (left) and Dr. Josh Durkee (right) following a meeting at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belmopan, Belize.

Dr. Jason Polk (centre), along with fellow WKU faculty members Dr. Xingang Fan (left) and Dr. Josh Durkee (right) following a meeting at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belmopan, Belize.

The Caribbean is changing every day. The people are changing, as is the geography. Perhaps most importantly, the Caribbean’s climate is changing, like it always has for thousands of years, yet never under the scrutiny with which it is examined today. Geographically, the Caribbean is diverse in its makeup. Isolated islands and small coastal nations that seem lonely and individually reliant upon their ability to persevere against the onset of environmental challenges. These countries comprise a group that shares a long and rich history, and are collectively facing challenges in addressing the risks and impacts from global climate change. Of these, one of the most pressing is the potential impact on the region’s water resources.

Water. Simple, natural, and plentiful. Mention the Caribbean and one immediately thinks of the sea, warm beaches, hurricanes, and shipwrecks. While these images certainly are a reality, behind them exists a region in trouble due to a changing global climate and the demand for fresh water. So, a question to be answered is from where does one obtain water on a Caribbean island? From the rivers? From the ground? Maybe from the ocean? These are all questions needing both to be asked and answered by people of the Caribbean and those looking in from outside. In answering these questions, one may be better able to understand the complex and pressing challenges that climate change has on water resources in the region.

Over the past few decades, new information and events have spurned a closer examination of the future temperature and rainfall patterns of the Caribbean. Results from the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and other regional climate studies indicate the Caribbean region will undergo significant changes, including the following:

  • variability in seasonal rainfall distribution, including decreasing average rainfall amounts of up to 20% or more and subsequent droughts in some areas, while increased seasonal rainfall and flooding events may occur elsewhere
  • changes in hurricane intensity and unpredictability, with the likelihood of more severe storms, including higher winds
  • an increase in average temperatures across the region
  • sea level rise of several millimeters or more, causing coastal inundation and changes in geography and topography
Credit: CGIAR

Credit: CGIAR

With these changes, there will be impacts on the fresh water resources of every nation in the region. Water stress will be one of the greatest challenges, as reduced precipitation and increasing temperatures will cause a lack of water availability in countries like the Bahamas, Grenada, and Jamaica, who already suffer from water scarcity. Several countries, such as Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, are among the most water-stressed nations in the world, meaning that they require more water than is available to the population on an annual basis. Part of this is due to the seasonal availability of rainfall, which is slowly changing due to climate variability.

The cause and effect relationship between precipitation and water scarcity is one of the simpler connections to be made from predicted climate change patterns; however, many others will arise and vary with regional geography, and potential water resource impacts include:

  • challenges to access due to changing conditions in surface streams, springs, and groundwater supplies during drought conditions
  • water quality issues that arise from flooding and population growth as communities and city centers grow in the face of declining agriculture
  • increased flooding from severe storms and hurricanes
  • salt water intrusion into coastal groundwater aquifers
  • increasing water scarcity due to infrastructural challenges and limited capacity to adapt quickly enough to changing climatic conditions

For example, take Barbados, which relies primarily on groundwater from a karst aquifer. Karst is a landscape typified by caves and springs, wherein the rock dissolves away and water is stored in the remaining voids. This type of landscape is commonly found throughout the Caribbean region, and its water resources are highly vulnerable to impacts like pollution, drought, and sea-level rise. Inundation by salt-water can permanently ruin a karst aquifer’s freshwater supply, as the saline water will displace the freshwater, decreasing both its quantity and quality. In places like Barbados and Curacao, desalination plants are necessary to make up the difference in water demand and supply. However, these can be expensive to build and maintain, creating additional environmental consequences in the form of briny discharge and fossil fuel consumption. Curacao is among the region’s oldest user of desalination, having utilized the technology for many decades in the region; yet, today the demands for fresh water still exceed the supply capacity and larger plants are necessary to meet the island’s needs.

Cave KarstThere will continue to be an increasing demand on water resources throughout the region from tourism growth as countries look toward economic gain to finance the mitigation of changing environmental conditions. Water utilities will need to be expanded, coastal development will require additional engineering solutions, and the cost of addressing the human health aspects of waterborne diseases may increase. Without a concerted effort to inform the public of the issues and possible solutions related to climate-driven water resource problems, a bigger challenge may be community resistance to increased costs and regulations. Even those people who opt for cheaper solutions, such as rainwater collection or local wells, may be forced to rely less on these as viable options if rainfall amounts decrease or salt water intrudes, and may demand access to public utilities as an alternative.

Water resource management policies and mitigation plans are often driven by political, economic, and developmental priorities, rather than science- or education- driven solutions, including technological and sustainable ways to adapt to climate change. In the Caribbean region, there exist several possible solutions already in use to varying degrees, including:

  • rainwater collection from roofs using barrels and cisterns
  • desalination plants that are solar powered and able to produce minimal byproducts
  • purchasing and shipping in water from nearby locations (like the water barges used between Andros and Nassau, Bahamas)
  • public education and outreach about conservation efforts

Tap waterA comprehensive assessment of water resource demands, infrastructure, and policies across the region is needed in order to address the critical areas requiring attention. Leaders have resources available to them to assist in information gathering and decision-making, such as those provided by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre and other groups. Several courses of action are possible to mitigate water resource challenges caused by climate change. Yet, the first step is to become educated about climate change science and both local and regional water resource issues. Community members can play a role at all levels, from individual conservation efforts to leading regional programs for entire communities. Most importantly, call for action to help build resiliency through education and training. To effect large-scale changes, nations must develop sustainable policies at a regional level to work together to address climate change impacts on water resources.

The reality is climate change impacts do not discriminate among nations, people, governments, economic levels, or geographies, nor do they wait for communities to prepare before occurring. Addressing climate change in the region requires that leaders and community members think locally and act globally. Get to know about climate change science. Get to know a neighbor. Get to know the geography of the Caribbean. Become a part of the conversation in your communities and in the region.

** Dr. Polk is an Assistant Professor of Geography and Geology at the University of Western Kentucky.

Peruse our vault of works (internal and external) on climate change and the Caribbean’s water sector here, by entering the keywords ‘water and climate change’. You’ll find guides on adaptation measures to address the absence of freshwater and coastal vulnerability, pilots, including the Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment System in Bequia, and  national water sector strategies for Jamaica and Belize, and much more.

Today is World Water Day!

Video Credit: The UN

Today is World Water Day! It is being observed under the theme International Year of Water Cooperation. In designating 2013 as the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation, the United Nations General Assembly recognizes that cooperation is essential to strike a balance between competing needs and priorities and share this precious resource equitably, as well as using water as an instrument of peace.

In his official address to celebrate World Water Day, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says “water holds the key to sustainable development, we must work together to protect and carefully manage this fragile, finite resource.” Watch his full address below…

According to The Water We Eat, a report produced by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN), the average person consumes more than 3,400 liters of virtual water each day—this is the water hidden in the products we buy and the food we eat and it can vary significantly.  So “what we eat, how we produce food, and how much food we waste can all impact the size of our water footprint. ” How are you managing your water footprint?

World Water Day is observed annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Learn more about our work to improve water resources across the Caribbean here.

Here are seven free World Water Day tools courtesy of Food Tank, a Think Tank focused on issues related to food.

1. On Pinterest, Food Tank developed 24 images about ways each of us can reduce water waste. Please check them out (and feel free to share them) by clicking HERE.
2. Drop In the Bucket put together this great short video for YouTube offering powerful facts about water.
3. UN World Water Day did a series of great animations and educational materials to celebrate World Water Day.
4. For great research and advocacy campaigns about food and water all year long see the Food and Water Watch website.
5. For more information about international water policy check out the Global Water Policy Project.
6. The Center for Investigative Reporting offers these six cool infographics about food and water.
7. And several of the CGIAR centers provide great research and tools, including the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

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