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Issues: Caribbean

Water Scarcity of Caribbean

(with examples from Jamaica)

by Katherine Fite

In 2010, portions of the Caribbean experienced a prolonged drought and severe water shortages. The small island country of Jamaica was one Caribbean country hit exceptionally hard by the drought. By late March/ early April, Jamaica’s two main water reservoirs were down 50% from their normal levels. In Kingston; the nation’s capital and largest city, the National Water Commission limited water availability to a few hours a day and could not even guarantee water to some parts of the city. While the drought eventually abated, water availability concerns echoed through out the Caribbean.

Many Caribbean countries are unfortunately vulnerable to water scarcity and drought. One of the contributing factors to vulnerability is climate change. Over the next several decades, there are predicated to be several significant changes in temperature and precipitation. By 2050, temperature in the Caribbean is expected to increase at least 1-2° C and average rainfall will decrease by 7%. The increase in temperature will also elicit an increase in water loss through evaporation. In addition, there will a rise in sea levels.

This water scarcity will impact agriculture, tourism and even public health. Elevated sea levels along with lack of rainfall and increased temperature cause severe agricultural problems. Seawater can invade already frail crop systems. Most Caribbean countries rely heavily on agriculture for not only food but also economic growth. They also rely on substantial rainfalls during hurricane seasons to support agriculture and replenish the water supply. For example, Jamaica major supplier of drinking water for dams comes from water precipitation in the rainy season. In addition, rapid increases in populations creates even more of a demand on already strained water supply systems.

Another issue contributing to water vulnerability is the poor maintenance and condition of water distribution and the lack of water conservation and mitigation programs. For instance, Jamaica’s two major dam systems that provide water to most of the countries urban drinking water were built in the 1950’s. Those dams today cannot support the large city populations, tourism and the overall demand for water. Yet some countries are starting to look towards solutions and preparations for the worst possible scenarios.

In 2010, Jamaica developed a multi-million dollar mitigation and conservation program to increase water supply. These measures will hopefully increase the available water supply by 5 million gallons per day. Programs like this reduces a country’s vulnerability to water shortages and ensures that the country has the necessary resources to adapt to climate change. Though water scarcity is an impeding concern due to factors such as climate change, there are ways the Caribbean can adapt and reduce their chance of suffering from water shortages.

The Cuban Water Crisis

By Jason Zheng

Waters in Cuba can be unsafe to drink because of the lack of chlorine supply that is needed to chlorinate water. Some residents, such as in Santiago de Cuba, can go as much as 20 days without water. Improperly chlorinated water are not safe to drink, and storing in their homes—this increases the risk of contamination. Cuba’s waters is managed by the hands of the public and private sectors, and as well the federal government of Cuba. These sectors will be assessed individually because each has a unique function that ensures the waters of Cuba are efficiently supplied and proper sanitized for humans use.

The National Water Resources Institute (Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidraulicos, INRH) directs, executes and controls the government water resource activities. In addition the INRH is in charge of setting norms and regulates the flow of water. The INRH was created in 1989 and later restructured in 2000 to reflect a focus on business management. INRH now includes 4 enterprise groupings and 5 independent enterprises. All of these enterprises are state-owned enterprises within the socialist, centrally planned Cuban economic system. The following paragraph shows the steps policies have to take under the INRH.

When waters and sanitation policies are proposed it goes through a number of steps before it can finally be a rule. First the proposed policy goes through the Cabinet. The Ministries involved in the sector include the Ministry of Economy and Planning (investment planning), the Ministry of Health (monitoring water and wastewater qualities), the Ministry of Financing and Prices (setting of budget and tariffs) and the Ministry of Construction (erecting infrastructures in waters that will assist sanitation.

The service provision is part of the responsibility of the country’s 14 provinces and 140 municipalities except of the 12 municipalities in Habana. The total number of rural water systems in Cuba’s 3,220 rural water systems. Aguas de la Habana is a private organization that provides water and sanitation of 12 municipalities out of the 15 municipalities under the 25-year contract. In addition to maintaining the system, the company’s annual bill is US $9 million for about 115 million cubic meters of water delivered to the people.

The government of Cuba avoids the term “privatization” despite the involvement of two foreign private companies as key partners. On the bright side, water tariffs in Havana is 1 Peso (USD $0.04) per cubic meter, making this the lowest water tariff in Latin America. In hotels and embassies, it is USD $1 per cubic meter. However before the 1997, residential waters in Cuba was all free.

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