Earth Today | ‘Collaborate for regional water security’
New perspectives paper says partnerships a must given COVID-19 realities
THE COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the value of water, prompting the Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C) to call for regional collaboration to ensure sustainability and improve access to the precious resource.
“Amidst the ongoing crisis and disruption of social and economic life, it has become clear that the world will probably never return to a state of ‘normality.’ This realisation has caused many scientists and political pundits to reimagine what a post-COVID-19 world might look like,” said a GWP-C perspectives paper titled ‘Implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for the Caribbean Water Sector’.
“For the Caribbean, the ongoing pandemic has raised a number of important supply- and demand-side questions for the regional water sector. Admittedly, some of these concerns are not new but have been brought into sharp focus, given the unprecedented challenges being faced globally and regionally,” added the paper, authored by the GWP-C Technical Committee members, led by Dr Kevon Rhiney.
COVID-19 has affected more than 136 million people globally, including more than 2.9 million deaths. To combat the pandemic, countries have had to emphasise the requirement for the frequent washing of hands – to which access to clean water is critical – in addition to other infection prevention-and-control measures, notably mask wearing and physical distancing.
TIME IS RIPE
The time is ripe, the paper said, “to modernise the water sector and employ strategies aimed at enhancing efficiency and building resilience to future shocks”.
Such strategies can include, the paper advances, rainwater harvesting (RWH).
“Given the large number of households throughout the Caribbean that rely on RWH, there needs to be greater attention given to this technology as a practical solution to all types of disasters,” the paper notes.
“This will require huge investments in training for local communities, farming communities, schools, churches and other user groups, and in enhancing the RWH technology itself to prevent contamination and ensure water quality. Regular water sampling, which seems to have been abandoned at the public health level in some countries, must be reinstituted.
This should include exploring models like ‘net metering’ (as applied in the energy sector) that would allow user communities and utilities to benefit from the water that is collected,” they added.
Another opportunity presented by the pandemic, the authors said, is to advance the thinking around integrated water resources management, defined by the UN as a process which “promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner, without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems”.
According to the authors of the perspectives paper, “Bridging the gap between policy and science, and promoting broad stakeholder participation in decision-making processes, could go a far way in improving the management of freshwater resources in the region.”
“If it is one thing the current pandemic has taught us, is that planning in silos is counterproductive. For instance, we cannot prioritise the need to reopen our regional economies over public health measures targeting COVID-19. The two must work in tandem,” they added.
To make it happen, cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder partnerships will be necessary, while affording the chance for co-benefits.
“Given the cross-cutting and central role of water in our societies, its sustainable management will be absolutely vital in meeting the region’s public health and macroeconomic goals in the months and years to come,” the authors said.