A Trinidadian scientist has a very simple message for Barbados as the country grapples with chronic water shortages brought on by a prolonged drought: fix the pipes!
Professor of Tropical Island Ecology at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine John Agard said before the authorities here worry about the possible impact of climate change on the water supply, they should first seek to curtail the amount of water being lost through leakage.
“Why don’t they fix the pipes? Do that first before you worry about climate change, because with that alone you are losing more water than you will lose from the decrease in precipitation,” Agard said at an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outreach event for the Caribbean held last week in Jamaica.
He cited a European Union-funded Global to Local Socio-Economic Climate Change Project which states that the anticipated ten to 11 per cent decline in precipitation due to the effect of climate change was far less than the amount of water being lost through leaky mains.
“Water leakage from pipes underground in Barbados is more than 40 per cent, and therefore they can manage climate change very well by saving water leakage underground.
“These are the kinds of lessons that we should act upon,” said Agard, the lead author of the fifth assessment report on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
He said the EU-funded study also placed Barbados on the list of the ten most water-impoverished countries in the world, adding that in addition to being in this grouping, a decrease in precipitation for the island would naturally “be terrifying”.
Agard explained that “Barbados has very good numbers to run models” because every house and every factory is metred.
“They know exactly how much water is
produced and how much water is used, because in Barbados they send everybody a bill for their water, so they measure everything.”
But he said the leakage of water underground due to old and rotting pipes was not unique to Barbados.
“I would be shocked if it’s any different in Jamaica or in Trinidad. Again, half of the water in Trinidad and throughout the whole Caribbean is leaking out from the pipes underground,” he said.
Meantime, Agard said the drought situation could prove to be a great “opportunity” for agriculture in Barbados.
“A decrease in precipitation means we should be looking for drought resistant varieties now,” he said, pointing to a project in Jamaica where a PhD student at the University of the West Indies had been studying many varieties of drought resistant sweet potatoes.
“You will get a decrease in the crop yield, however, something interesting was discovered. Because you have more carbon dioxide concentration in the air and plants take in carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide is actually a stimulant. So, if you have enough irrigation, you will actually get a higher yield of sweet potatoes and you need to compare the varieties to see which gives you the highest yield.
“So, there is opportunity, you could actually get more yield if you have enough irrigation because carbon dioxide acts as a stimulant and makes sweet potatoes grow faster. And there are many crops like that,
that we have to, with knowledge, turn it around and take advantage and plant more drought resistant varieties,” Agard added.