Thu | Oct 29, 2020

Earth Today | UNEP partners to reduce freshwater stress

Published:Thursday | June 4, 2020 | 12:28 AM
CORBIN
CORBIN

IN A move to reduce the stress on freshwater resources in the Caribbean, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its partners are to implement a new multimillion-US-dollar project with a focus on wastewater management in the region.

The US$14.9-million effort, which assumes even more importance following the emergence of COVID-19, together with prevailing climate-change threats, builds on the earlier ‘Caribbean Regional Waste Management Fund (CReW)’ project. In fact, this new project is called CReW+.

Funded by the Global Environment Facility, it is to be co-executed by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Secretariat of the Cartagena Convention on behalf of the Inter-American Development Bank and UNEP, respectively.

Eighteen countries from the Wider Caribbean Region, including Jamaica, are to benefit from the effort, which is to give stronger ‘legs’ to the long-held view among various stakeholders that wastewater is too valuable a resource for the Caribbean to hesitate to exploit. The idea is to conserve freshwater while safely reusing wastewater.

The other beneficiaries are Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

“Resources were transferred to the two implementing agencies in early 2020 and we are now in the pre-inception phase,” said Chris Corbin, programme officer for the pollution and communications subprogrammes with the Ecosystems Division of UNEP.

He admitted that the start date for activities had been impacted by COVID-19 but said they were even now working through that.

“We (IDB and UNEP) are working to hire staff to comprise the Project Coordinating Group as well as convene the Project Inception Workshop and the first Project Steering Committee Meeting. This meeting was originally planned to take place face to face by June 2020, but is now likely to take place virtually in the second half of 2020,” explained Corbin, who is also with the Cartagena Convention Secretariat.

“We are also initiating contractual arrangements with national governments and partners at the national and regional levels. Participating countries have been invited to review and endorse their proposed national activities and corresponding budget, designate a national and alternate focal point for the project, and identify project partners by the end of June 2020,” he added, noting that a regional project manager had been selected.

PROJECT PROVISIONS

Among the specific provisions under the project are targeted institutional, policy, legislative, and regulatory reforms for integrated water and wastewater management (IWWM), including a look at the reuse of treated wastewater.

There is also a provision for sustainable and tailor-made financing options for urban, peri-urban and rural IWWM.

“This will be led by IDB and GIZ and will both enhance the existing mechanisms developed under CReW, including the K Factor here in Jamaica, but broadened to look at financial mechanisms at a community level,” Corbin noted.

Among other things, another provision is for knowledge management and advocacy on the importance of IWWM in order to achieve, in particular, Sustainable Development Goals 6 and 14.

Goal 6 speaks specifically to ensuring access to water and sanitation for all, while Goal 14 addresses the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Freshwater security as vital to the preservation of public health has been cemented by the experience of COVID-19, the public health response to which has emphasised, among other things, frequent hand washing, as well as the sanitisation of surfaces.

COVID-19, whose containment also requires a range of other actions, including social distancing and the overall strengthening of health systems, has, up to now, infected more than 6.1 million people globally and claimed the lives of more 376,000.

Climate change, a clear and present danger to especially vulnerable countries such as those of the Caribbean, itself presents significant challenges for freshwater security.

This is given projections for, for example, sea level rise which could lead to saltwater intrusion that could affect freshwater stores. There is also the expectation of more severe drought conditions, due to warming temperatures, that will impair people’s access to freshwater.

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