A Water Paradox in the Caribbean

27 Oct 2020

During the opening weekend of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, the forum Water: A Common Good, demonstrated the severe problem of water worldwide, the dispossesion communities’ water rights , the excessive pollution of water sources, the global warming of the seas, and the impact it is having on all regions of the world.

The Caribbean is not indifferent to these problems. During the forum, Gonzalo Merediz, a biologist from Mexico, told us: “Pollution is the problem in Yucatán right now. We have a huge tourism and hotel industry that generates employment, but also generates enormous amounts of pollution. This goes to water sources and impacts coral reefs, which continue to die. And as the coral dies, so does the ecosystem.” Gonzalo is also a climate change activist in the state of Quintana Roo with the organization Amigos de Sian Ka’an. They work to educate the community and encourage the tourism industry and other industries in the region to manage water resources more efficiently.


Image credit Andrea Amato

Marcela Ampudia Sjogreen (spokesperson for the Slow Food Fi Wi Old Providence and Catalina community) and Liliana Vargas, food resource technician for the Slow Fish Caribe project from the Providencia and Santa Catalina islands in Colombia, expand on the most insistent problems with respect to water.

Dispatch from the islands
The Caribbean is not alien to the difficulties of access to drinking water for human consumption and agricultural production, on the contrary, it is a fragile region in this sense and even more so in the serious panorama of climate warming that affects these territories with greater force.

Fresh Water sources
Providencia is an island of only 17 square kilometers, with a maximum height of 360 meters above sea level, and at a distance of 762 kilometers from the Colombian coast in the Caribbean, where water is a very precious commodity. The island of Providencia has a sedimented dam in a sector of the island called by its inhabitants Freshwater Bay, with an aqueduct system halfway, and with a community that has stopped building cisterns with rainwater collection systems in their houses. Therefore, the islanders are totally dependent on the supply of water from the dam-aqueduct.

Due to the droughts of recent years, the shortage of chemicals for water treatment and the precarious conditions of the aqueduct system, there are sectors of the island that receive the precious liquid once or twice a month. Due to this situation, today, many households must buy bottled water for cooking, and non-potable water tanks for washing clothes and bathing.  width=

Agriculture in the Islands
For agriculture, water is even more scarce. Farmers traditionally rely on rain for their crops, but due to climate change and erratic rains in recent years, relying on rain is a very high risk. Watering the plantations with chlorinated water from the aqueduct is not possible, there are no mini irrigation districts or the government’s interest in improving the water supply for agriculture. Therefore, when talking about the problems of agriculture on the island, the lack of water for irrigation always comes to the fore. According to the islanders, if the “water problem” is not solved, the other problems are the least of it, because their possibilities of food autonomy also depend on this precious liquid.


Image credit Allen-Dewberry from Unsplash.com

Tourism and Water 
Another factor that severely affects the access to water of the population in the Caribbean is the allocation of these resources to supply the growing tourism sector. Hotel conglomerates are installed in the territories demanding large amounts of this liquid to meet the demand of the thousands of tourists who come to the territories, above the supply needs of the local inhabitants, this is evident and the cause of conflicts in the Caribbean Mexican.

Faced with the urgency of providing drinking water to the populations, the states in the Caribbean must rethink their public policies to ensure this fundamental human right for the population, not only for human consumption but to guarantee the possibilities of food autonomy, making peasant production viable.

Within the framework of the Slow Fish Caribe project in the area of ​​public policy advocacy, work was carried out with communities; to develop recommendations for the formulation of public policies, contributing elements to solve these issues from the community perspectives pinpointed in each of one of the territories.

The Slow Fish Caribe project, funded by the European Union, recognizes the importance of networking, exchanging knowledge, learning, experiences, good practices, promoting the conservation of the biodiversity of complex, fragile and biodiverse coastal-Caribbean reef ecosystems, subjected to excessive exploitation, consolidating good practices for the sustainable use of the resources of the Biosphere Reserves. Since 2017, work has been carried out on the Mexican coast of Quintana Roo, where the Sian Ka’an and Banco Chichorro Biosphere Reserves are located, and the Colombian Caribbean coast in the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, where locates the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, with the objective of promoting the sustainable use of marine and coastal resources of the complex, fragile and biodiverse ecosystems of coastal-Caribbean reefs, subjected to excessive exploitation.

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