Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, tells us that the Caribbean and Latin America are no exception to the global water crisis.
He recently wrote in an article entitled‘Water crisis, everyone’s problem’ that the region “has 36% of the water available worldwide for consumption. However, its distribution is heterogeneous and has a high seasonality, presenting areas with extreme water scarcity. Access to safely manage water supply services is still unavailable to 166 million people, and 24 million still do not have access to basic services.”
Grenada, being part of the region to which he refers, faces the severe impacts of climate change as do our neighbouring island nations. Lubetkin points to Mexico, Chile, Peru and the countries of the Central American dry corridor that have been “accumulating high rates of water stress and are suffering more frequent and intense prolonged drought.”
Noting that seven Caribbean countries recorded severe droughts in 2020, the FAO regional leader also references the Amazon, “which has traditionally been very humid (receiving up to 5,000 mm of rainfall per year), some areas have become more arid, with dry periods having increasingly more significant impact.”
Recognising that water is a fundamental resource for everyone; is essential for health, energy, food production; the development of healthy ecosystems, climate adaptation and the reduction of poverty and inequalities; he reminds the region that water is central to sustainable development. It is in this context that we point to the importance of preserving water. Now that we are fully into our ‘dry season’ it is incumbent on all to take measures to reduce the gallons of water that continue to be wasted in our island nation.
Our water services and supply have advanced much to our advantage since the days of the Central Water Commission. Compared to many countries in the world, we are fortunate in the quality and availability of clean, potable water. Nevertheless, ‘clean’ is not always applicable. On frequent occasions local householders complain of muddy water coming through their taps, especially after heavy rains. Also, after just one day of storage, muddy residue settles at the bottom of containers with stored tap water. Consequently, many householders boil the tap water and store for drinking. Others, who are able, install tap filters to aid in consuming ‘clean’ water.
As the National Water and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) seeks to meet the needs of its customers, it should lead by example in water preservation. One way is to promptly respond to reported broken pipes or leaky connections. There are instances of repeated reports to the Authority’s sub offices about leaking mains, worn out or faulty pipe heads at community stand pipes that continuously leak and faulty connections. The Authority can take days, even weeks, to get to these repairs. Water continues to go down the drain. Similarly, individuals must be responsible in ensuring leaks at home are fixed, closing taps when not in use, using stored rain water for many household tasks and the like to reduce consumption of tap water, as well as avoid wastage.
As the Authority continues to modernise its services and storage capacity, operating from beautiful new offices in St George’s and Carriacou, it should address the vexing problem customers have with surging overnight pressure in pipes that can result in air building up and causing damage to fixtures.
A major issue of concern to Lubetkin is agricultural losses due to flooding, including loss of production and income for farmers; loss of arable land due to erosion and topsoil washout; loss of seeds and fertilizers, and loss of agricultural infrastructure and irrigation systems.
All of these can significantly impact food security and farmers’ livelihoods. Indeed, all of these are impacting Grenadian farmers to varying degrees. Those with access to water for irrigation can manage through the dry season, but there is need for many more farmers to have access to water for agricultural purposes. There should be a role for NAWASA in this.
While the FAO is working on improving and efficiently using water; implementing irrigation technologies, sustainable agriculture and ecosystem-based water use; and promoting the protection of water resources through good agricultural practices and land and soil management, it is our farmers and agro-processors that need to feel the impact of these efforts.
“We know that this is not enough,” he writes. The first United Nations’ conference on water in 46 years concluded in New York today “to get the world back on track for reaching the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 6,” according to UNESCO. SDG 6 aims to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030.
The FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean supports the agreements of the Regional Action Agenda for Water, coordinated by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in which the management of water resources is fundamental for food security.
Let us hope that the government, in its transformation agenda, ensures all this collaboration among regional and international agencies and commissions is ultimately felt by the hard-working farmers and agro processing who are abiding by climate smart agricultural methods.