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World Water Day 2012 ... Wastewater treatment critical for food security

Published:Sunday | March 25, 2012 | 12:00 AM
In this photo released by Greenpeace, activists from Greenpeace Mexico are seen aboard a kayak wearing protective suits and masks as they unfurl banners reading 'Mexican Rivers, Toxic Rivers' to mark World Water Day, near the Salto de Juanacatlán waterfall on the Santiago River, which they say is one of the most polluted rivers in Mexico, on Thursday, March 22. They were demanding that the Mexican authorities clean up Mexico's waterways. - AP

THIS YEAR'S theme of World Water Day, held annually on March 22, was 'Water and Food Security' and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) coordinated activities. FAO pointed out that "in all steps of the supply chain, from producers to consumers, actions can be taken to save water and ensure food for all".

So, how is wastewater treatment linked to food security? In a world where we are increasingly concerned with not having enough water to meet our needs, water pollution contributes significantly to reduced water availability for various uses, including agriculture and food production.

How does wastewater treatment relate to water resource management? In an ideal world, all wastewater coming from our homes and workplaces would be collected and cleaned or treated before either being returned to a nearby river or waterway as clean water or reused for activities such as irrigation. As such, it would return to the water cycle with no negative effect upon the natural environment.

The reality in the wider Caribbean region, however, is that 51.5 per cent of households lack sewer connections, and only 17 per cent of households are connected to acceptable collection and treatment systems. As much as 85 per cent of wastewater entering the Caribbean Sea remains untreated.

The result is water pollution which affects the quality of our lives in many ways. Improperly treated domestic and industrial wastewater can be a significant source of marine pollution and can represent a serious threat to human health, the use of marine resources and sustainable development. Sewage is more often than not discharged into rivers, streams and lakes or directly into the sea without any treatment. Organic matter, nutrients and suspended solids contained in untreated wastewater contribute to eutrophication, increased turbidity and siltation of coastal ecosystems.

Wastewater management challenges

Countries of the wider Caribbean region face many challenges in improving wastewater management:


  • Funding for expansion and updating of existing wastewater treatment facilities
  • Providing new wastewater treatment services where none currently exists
  • Increasing the efficiency of sewer collection systemsPproviding trained and qualified personnel to work within the sector
  • strengthening supportive institutional, legal and policy frameworks.

The Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (CReW), which was established in 2011, aims to provide sustainable financing for the wastewater sector, to support policy and legislative reforms, and to foster regional dialogue and knowledge exchange among key stakeholders in the wider Caribbean. The four-year project is funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by the Inter-American Development Bank and United Nations Environment Programme .

The 13 participating countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Learn more about the CReW at: www.gefcrew.org.


CAPTION: In this photo released by Greenpeace, activists from Greenpeace Mexico are seen aboard a kayak wearing protective suits and masks as they unfurl banners reading 'Mexican Rivers, Toxic Rivers' to mark World Water Day, near the Salto de Juanacatlán waterfall on the Santiago River, which they say is one of the most polluted rivers in Mexico, on Thursday, March 22. They were demanding that the Mexican authorities clean up Mexico's waterways. - AP