Water Insecurity and Climate Change
Projections on the impact of climate change in the Caribbean indicate that the region may suffer between a 12% and 25% reduction in the availability of water. This is an ominous prospect for a region already dealing with serious water insecurity. However, these projections will almost certainly be exceeded given that the current level of ambition reflected in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that have been submitted by countries that are Party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) indicate that we are on track for a 3 degree Celsius warming. At those elevated temperatures, water stresses will be worse for the Caribbean.
Therefore, every Caribbean country must make water resource management a priority for development. This will require better land use policies. There has been significant degradation of critical watersheds in many countries as a result of poor land use. Many water sources that were once productive have been compromised as a result of deforestation, land clearing and unsound agricultural, housing or commercial developments in close proximity to the water source.
Water storage must be taken more seriously at both the national and domestic levels. Rainwater harvesting and use can go a long way in reducing the stress on municipal water systems. Incentives must be given to residential and commercial consumers to invest in storage tanks and undertake retrofits of their buildings to allow for dual plumbing so that rainwater may be used for non-essential purposes. Governments will have to consider investing in better storage infrastructure, as droughts will become more common and prolonged.
Wastage will have to be reduced significantly. Many of the national water systems are plagued with unacceptably high levels of non-revenue water - water that is being produced by the water company, but is being lost due to leaks and damage to water distribution systems. In some countries this figure exceeds 50%. This is perhaps the first area that should be tackled, because of the potential for immediate benefit.
Agriculture is very dependent on water, but it is also a major user and potential polluter of water sources. So, there must be close collaboration between the water and agricultural sectors. A critical element of making the agriculture sector resilient to climate change involves changing the way in which this sector manages and uses water.
The sustainable development of every Caribbean country and every Small Island Developing State will depend heavily on how successfully it manages its water resources.