Already the 15th most water-scarce country in the world, Barbados also faces imminent threat to its potable water supply from climate change, the Ministry of Health revealed today, warning that the full impact of the threat is a lot closer than many may be inclined to believe.
And making more water available to Barbadians could eventually mean preparing to recycle wastewater, Medical Officer Dr Ingrid Cumberbatch has said.
Delivering the feature address for the opening of a ‘water quality surveillance’ training seminar held at the Pan American Health Organisation, Dalkeith Road, Dr. Cumberbatch said that global sea level rise by the year 2100 is projected to reach as much as 26 inches which could lead to saltwater contamination of the nation’s groundwater resources.
The sea level rise projection would mean disaster internationally for coastal developments, cities and communities, but it will be even more catastrophic for countries like Barbados, she said.
“Presently rising sea levels impact the freshwater held in coastal aquifers through saline intrusion. This is particularly severe in the northern parishes of St Peter and St Lucy whereby it further diminishes Barbados’ scarce portable water availability. What is most concerning is that water supply wells, when contaminated with salt water, are not easily recoverable. In addition, there are public health questions related to the long-term consumption of progressively salted water,” Dr Cumberbatch said.
She pointed out that the steady depletion of natural water resources caused by climate change and increased consumer demand has increasingly placed significant pressure on Barbados’ ability to reliably meet basic human water supply. In response to water availability challenges, she contended that it is for this reason that Barbados must explore new options for topping up its potable water supply beyond small-scale desalination. The health official suggested that wastewater reuse must be seen as a viable strategy to augment the water supply.
Last November, Minister of Water Resources Wilfred Abrahams revealed that Government was moving towards building a tertiary sewage treatment plant on the south coast, as a matter of priority over the next 18 months. Little has been said of the project in recent times, but it is expected that the product of the tertiary plant can be reused at a limited level to supplement the water supply.
But Dr Cumberbatch noted that wastewater reuse brings its own health challenges which the relevant authorities must adequately anticipate and prepare for.
“The challenges posed by climate variability and climate change, dictate that wastewater reuse is therefore a real and imminent water augmentation option that must be and is presently being explored at the national policy level,” she said. “Unfortunately, water reuse also brings significant public health concerns that the health sector must both anticipate and build institutional capacity for effective regulation.”
Declaring that time was not on Barbados’ side, Dr Cumberbatch stressed that Government must take a frontal approach to building national adaptation and resilience capacity for the health sector. She insisted that the focus must therefore be placed on mainstreaming climate change adaptation and water quality surveillance plans as routine operations in order to ensure effective resilience and response to most climate and weather-driven events and conditions.