Working to improve the resilience of Caribbean water supply


Two major hurricanes devastated the Caribbean in 2017.  Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused loss of life, and destroyed homes and infrastructure on several islands across the region. The resulting damage and disruption to water services had a severe impact on the general population, as well as on essential services.  With climate change expected to increase the severity of extreme weather events, it is vital to look at ways of reducing the effects of such events on water supply.

HR Wallingford is working on a project with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to improve the resilience of the Caribbean water supply services sector.  The project involves national pilot studies focussing on Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis, as well as a regional element which covers all of the Caribbean Development Bank’s Borrowing Member Countries.

The climate risks facing each island’s water services sector are unique.  Climate risk and vulnerability assessments carried out by HR Wallingford in Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis have revealed these diverse challenges.  In Grenada, the water supply is dominated by surface water systems which are at risk of damage from sediment laden flood flows during storms which cause regular disruption and outages in the wet season.  In St Kitts and Nevis, where groundwater is used more widely, its supply is dependent on reliable electricity.  The passage of Hurricane Irma through St Kitts and Nevis disrupted water supplies when power outages prevented the pumping of groundwater.

While the recent hurricanes caused extreme flooding, it is important to recognise that Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis also face the risk of drought.  The severe drought of 2009/10 led to a major shortfall in water production in Grenada, impacting residents and businesses, not to mention the agricultural sector.  In St Kitts, as recently as 2017, water rationing has been in operation as strategic groundwater resources showed signs of saline intrusion due to a lack of rainfall coupled with a rising demand for water.  Climate change is set to exacerbate these risks, with projections of drier conditions across the region, and potentially more extreme weather events.

The region is acutely aware of the risks and the need to invest in more resilient water services to safeguard its economic growth and development.  HR Wallingford is helping Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis to develop investment plans which address immediate priorities and long term challenges.  The investment plans are developed on the basis of analytical studies, as well as extensive stakeholder engagement, to ensure they align with national priorities.  The plans reflect the need to invest in improved water supply services infrastructure, as well as water governance and water resources management.  Advice on financing strategies and sources of funding, including climate funds, such as the Green Climate Fund, is also being provided.

Dr Nigel Walmsley, Technical Director in the Water Management Group at HR Wallingford, said: “Building on the pilot studies, we are also developing tools and guidance which will benefit all the CDB’s Borrowing Member Countries in the region.  This includes a Water Sector Resilience Index to measure levels of vulnerability of the water services sector in a country, as well as guidance to strengthen capacity to prepare and implement interventions which will enhance resilience.  Ultimately, the aim is to unlock finance by allowing countries to demonstrate their climate resilience investment needs to development partners.”

Dr Walmsley is currently attending the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia supporting the Caribbean delegation of Water Ministers and senior advisors.  HR Wallingford’s work is being used to inform the preparation of a broader Regional Strategic Action Plan (RSAP) for water which will focus not only on climate resilience, but also water governance and water availability.  Special sessions are being held at the Forum to advance the preparation of the strategy and to discuss its roll-out amongst all the countries in the Caribbean.

HR Wallingford has a long track record in the region, having worked with key regional organisations including Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, Global Water Partnership Caribbean, and the Climate Development and Knowledge Network, on water management and climate resilience.

The engineering and environmental hydraulics consultancy has integrated its UK and international experience in water resources management and climate change adaptation with regional expertise to tackle the complex climate challenges of the Caribbean water sector.

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