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Earth Today | Wastewater reuse, a solution for Caribbean water woes

Published:Thursday | April 29, 2021 | 12:08 AM

A snap of the new perspectives paper.
A snap of the new perspectives paper.

WASTEWATER REUSE as a part of the solution to regional water woes has once again come into the spotlight, with the recent publication of the perspectives paper titled ‘Status, Need and Role of Freshwater Storage in the Caribbean’.

“Wastewater represents a large stock of untapped resources which, if treated and reused for secondary purposes, can lead to less reliance on freshwater resources and increased availability for storage,” notes the paper, which was co-authored by Anika Cole and Dr Adrian Cashman and published by Global Water Partnership – Caribbean.

The challenge, they say, is the “financial implications and access to affordable, innovative technology to treat wastewater to a consistently acceptable standard”, while noting that “there is growing interest for hotels to reuse wastewater in landscaping and golf courses, and even for irrigation of cricket grounds in St Lucia”.

The United Nations Environment Programme has, meanwhile, long trumpeted the need to prioritise wastewater, given, for example, climate change realities.

For one thing, UNEP has noted that poorly managed wastewater is itself a challenge. In an article headlined ‘Wastewater: the issue’, UNEP has indicated that among other things, poorly managed wastewater leads not only to loss of ecosystem services and economic opportunities, but also climate change through wastewater-related emissions of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), which have higher global warming potentials than CO2.

There are also likely health impacts due to water-borne diseases as well as the challenge of the spread of ‘dead zones’ impacting fisheries, livelihoods and the food chain. A ‘dead zone’ refers to a reduced level of oxygen in water, leading either to the death of marine life or their migration from the impacted area.

On the other and, well-managed wastewater can yield many benefits, not the least of these for agriculture.

“It is a source of water and nutrients that can be used for crop production, reducing the need for scarce freshwater and expensive fertilisers. Wastewater sludge can also be used to manufacture construction materials and to generate biogas and biofuel, thus providing opportunities for green jobs, sustainable development and social well-being,” the article noted.

It is against this background that UNEP has been involved with the roll-out of interventions, such as the Global Environmental Fund Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (GEF CReW) project.

The first instalment of that project had as its objective ‘to implement innovative technical small-scale solutions for wastewater management in the Wider Caribbean Region using an integrated water and wastewater management approach and through building on sustainable financing mechanisms piloted through the Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management’.

Specific components included institutional, policy, legislative and regulatory reform for integrated water and wastewater management; sustainable and tailor-made financing options for urban, peri-urban and rural integrated water and wastewater management; and provision of appropriate small-scale, local, rural and peri-urban and community-based solutions for integrated water and wastewater management.

The project has yielded, among other things, best practices for running wastewater utilities, a regional wastewater management policy template and toolkit, as well as guidelines for developing, planning and/or updating national wastewater management plans.

PRIVATE SECTOR ENGAGEMENT NEEDED

Cole and Cashman, in their own paper, have advanced the need for private sector engagement to address the need for resources to treat wastewater, as for addressing other water security issues impacting the region, including storage.

“There is opportunity in exploring more niche financing streams especially through public-private partnership. Several large private sector firms, including breweries, manufacturers have gone the route of being self-sustainable with their own infrastructure. There is growing interest around how to leverage private sector participation through shared resources and programmes to meet both public and private water demand,” they wrote.

They have also put on the table the need for interventions that extend to strong governance arrangements on integrated storage.

“Many long-range development strategies throughout the Caribbean have underscored the importance of water resources management and well-functioning water services. The implementation of these strategies, nevertheless, will be the challenging aspect of the process,” they noted.

“Water governance in the Caribbean has a distinct set of multi-level challenges, including unclear policy objectives and strategies and monitoring mechanisms; as well as unpredictable investment climate (OECD, 2012). However, things are changing and countries are gradually starting to better integrate water sector development with future national economic development objectives,” Cole and Cashman added.

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