A Caribbean regional videoconference hosted by UNESCO’s Montevideo office (Uruguay) to present its World Water Resources Report 2020 (WWDR2020) offered St. Kitts and Nevis an opportunity to expound on its efforts to galvanise the region, with UNESCO’s assistance, towards a common vision relating to a water policy framework, in the wake of climate change.
St. Kitts & Nevis’ Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris, Dr. David P. Doyle, was invited to address the event held under the auspices of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP), and attended by delegates drawn from water authorities and IHP focal contacts across the Caribbean region.
He underlined the vulnerability factor triggered by limited freshwater resources — both ground and surface water — due to rising sea levels, climate variability and change.
“Like many small islands across the globe, encirclement by marine water inevitably leads saltwater intrusion into groundwater resources, which has become a problem of some magnitude. Recent COVID-19 pandemic had added urgency to the issue, from a sanitation perspective,” he said.
Referring to the results of a High-Level Symposium on Achieving Water Security in Caribbean SIDS, held in St. Kitts last October, Ambassador Doyle noted the commonality of issues discussed at this event that were underlined in the UNESCO Water & Climate Change Report 2020.
This related, in particular, to the adverse effects of climate change effects on water resources, including groundwater, and water-related disasters such as flooding and droughts.
“Exacerbating this trend are the extended and more frequent periods of droughts”, he said, which the WWDR2020 report forecasts will impact the region harder in the years ahead.
The videoconference heard from UNESCO’s two key water experts: Massimiliano Lombardo, Programme Specialist in Natural Sciences, at the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean in Jamaica, and Miguel Doria, Assistant Programme Specialist, UNESCO Division of Water Sciences in Montevideo, who summarized some the WWDR2020 findings in relation to the Caribbean region.
They pointed to Chapter 10 of the WWDR2020, which highlights, in particular, some important perspectives for this region:
- According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), drought risk is projected to increase, especially if temperatures rise with more than 1.5°C, which explains that up to 50% of the year is projected to be very warm in the Caribbean region at 1.5°C, with a further increase by up to 70 days at 2°C versus 1.5°C. The Caribbean islands also face threats from sea level rise, including salinization, flooding and pressure on ecosystems.
- Grenada was cited as an example of best practice in terms of reflecting water-related needs into national climate plans and strategies. Grenada’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Programme of Action 3 (out of 12) aims to establish a ‘climate-responsive water governance structure’, recognizing the need for institutional development across planning, policy and information systems, alongside infrastructure.
- Generally, national development plans in the Caribbean tend to recognize water-related impacts of climate change and, in some cases, the importance of water management to economic development. However, UNESCO notes that they do not explicitly treat water management and climate change as interlinked sectors requiring integrated responses. Moreover, despite the cross-sectoral treatment of water issues in the countries’ climate strategies, their progress in implementing Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) suggests there will be challenges in integrating water and climate action in practice.
In contributing to the wider water strategy debate, Ambassador Doyle noted that for the past two years, the government of St. Kitts & Nevis has lobbied in Paris for urgent attention to be deployed by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP), to address these water challenges.
“In doing so, by identifying priorities for action at the highest political level, building on scientifically-proven solutions and providing leading-edge guidance on governance, data collection, water use efficiency, harvesting, storage, etc, to governments across the Caribbean,” he said.
The Water Symposium in St. Kitts and Nevis last October was seen as a first step towards encouraging Caribbean states to forge a partnership with the IHP, as the only intergovernmental programme of the UN system devoted to water research, water resources management, and education and capacity-building.
“We are seeking to go beyond IHP’s assistance in integrating watershed and aquifer management, for instance, to incorporating the social dimension of water resources, again based on leading-edge international research in hydrological and freshwater sciences,” he said.
The scientific-led solutions explored, briefly, at the Symposium were:
Enhanced governance for sustainable groundwater resources
- Adapting groundwater management to integrate regional/national water and agricultural policies
- Reviewing land use to water sector
- Improve sustainable groundwater abstraction through better groundwater monitoring
- Incorporate Managed Aquifer Recharge to capture and store excess storm-water in wet period.
Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr. Timothy Harris, who opened the Symposium, noted that it was a first step, with UNESCO’s assistance, in ultimately galvanising Caribbean water ministers to move towards making a political commitment on a range of approaches to address issues of primary concern to achieve water security — from political and public awareness, to technology and capacity-building to undertaking institutional changes to instituting legal measures.
Moving forward, the government of St. Kitts and Nevis will be pursuing a dialogue with the UNESCO IHP team in Paris, and with its offices in Jamaica and Uruguay, to develop a Caribbean-wide policy framework on water security.
“The weak link between water management and climate change policies across the Caribbean is a point we must address. As the UNESCO Water and Climate Change Report 2020 firmly stresses, these are interlinked sectors requiring integrated responses, ” The Secretary-General of St. Kitts & Nevis National Commission for UNESCO, Ms. Dorothy Warner, who remotely attended the videoconference, noted after the event.
Read the report: United Nations World Water Development Report