SEATTLE — St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a 32-island chain located in the heart of the Caribbean Sea and mostly untouched by tourists. The sovereign country’s renewable water sources reach about 100 million cubic meters every year. Demand for potable water in the islands is just above 1 percent of the available water supply. Deterioration of water quality in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a pressing matter.
The wooded, volcanic mountains in St. Vincent is divided into 16 watersheds and accompanied by numerous small streams. Average national demand for water on the island is met mostly by the surface freshwater sources, but the abundance of rivers and streams ensures that a surplus of water is already there. In the drier islands of the Grenadines, on the other hand, streams and rivers are not available and water is mainly harvested from rainwater and underground water sources.
Though water shortage is not a problem in the islands, steady drying of river streams and degrading water quality in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is predicted to become a problem as the population increases.
Under the Act No. 17 of 1991, the Central Water and Sewerage Authority (CWSA) is authorized to “investigate the water resources of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and advise the minister of health, wellness and the environment on “the improvement, preservation, conservation, utilization and apportionment of those resources.” The CWSA also monitors water use for commercial, municipal, agricultural and industrial purposes and supplies water to about 95 percent of the population in St. Vincent.
Because water turbidity is the most challenging issue on the island, the CWSA performs strict maintenance of water intakes. Three laboratories in St. Vincent and the Grenadines conduct daily local water quality testing for the presence of chemical or microbial elements, adhering to World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for drinking water. Other water structures are checked and analyzed for residual chlorine, turbidity and pH levels.
As the domestic demand for water increases due to increased usage, tourism and agriculture have been pinpointed as the main culprits. A fourfold increase in water use is attributed to tourists’ demands while the pressures of globalization have necessitated the streamlining of irrigation systems. Accompanying these developments is the stress to aquatic life due to fluctuations in the stream flow and the change in the land use. If left unchecked, the irrigation process could be seriously hampered due to soil erosion and soil water retention and water quality in St. Vincent and the Grenadines can regress even further.
According to a 2013 national report submitted to the United Nations, the government has worked with Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) and utilized resources facilitated by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) under the Special Project on Adaptation to Climate Change (SPACC) to construct an environmentally-friendly reverse osmosis plant in Bequia, the second-largest island in the country. Furthermore, the government has also sought to improve access to potable water, promote conservation measures, protect key habitats and ecosystems and generally improve water quality in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
While this relatively unexplored island nation has not successfully shown an ability to adapt to the vagaries of climate change, support of international bodies and agencies such as the CCCCC, the U.N. and the Organization of American States (OAS) are critical to helping the St. Vincent and the Grenadines implement the lessons learnt globally in combating this threat. A full civil society approach with private sector partnerships will be the government’s best bet to promote the country’s sustainable development and improve water access and sanitation for all.
– Mohammed Khalid