Commentary: El Nino leaves many without access to safe, consumable water in the Caribbean
by Keith White, originally posted on June 30, 2016
This past February, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) reported that several countries within the region had been issued immediate drought warnings by the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH).
Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, northern Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada, the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and northern Suriname all joined an increasingly growing list of countries around the globe that struggle to produce a reliable source of water that can sustain both their citizens and their economies.
The drought warnings were only to last through the end of March, with the bleakest outlook suggesting Caribbean countries could remain water scarce through the end of the region’s dry season, which was May 31. Yet the region continues to struggle as it hopes for rain during the impending hurricane season, still trying to bounce back from a drought – some calling it the worst in years – that dried up water reserves and decimated crops.
As the drought wears on, countries within the Caribbean face great risk, as their economies based in tourism rely heavily on clean, sustainable water sources – and that doesn’t begin to address the issues of agriculture and clean water sources for their own people.
Feeling the impact
Tourism is one of the Caribbean’s greatest economic sectors, bringing in $49 billion in 2013, which represented 14% of the region’s gross domestic product. With as many as 25 million visitors descending on the region annually, having clean water sources for guests for consumption and bathing is crucial to customer service. Last summer, most large hotels in Puerto Rico were cutting back water usage by up to 50% in order to maintain an adequate supply. One hotel in St Lucia went as far as to turn off water in hotel rooms during the day – not the greatest way to leave an impression on guests.
While no longer a significant portion of the region’s GDP, its agriculture sector is crucial as it contributes heavily to domestic food supply and provides employment. It was reported last year that the Caribbean lost more than $1 million in crops – including coconuts, cashews, rice, beans, and citrus fruits – as well tens of thousands of dollars in livestock. Without a sustainable water source, crops will continue to die and citizens of the Caribbean could enter a food crisis as well.
Conservation not enough – technology can help
From California to Latin America to the Caribbean, government officials have implemented extreme conservation guidelines but clearly these efforts will not be enough to provide relief, both immediate and long term. Instead, government officials must put resources behind available technology that can provide immediate solutions and bring clean, consumable water to those in the Caribbean and across the globe. Technology exists – like atmospheric water generation – that can positively impact water scare regions in just days.
Atmospheric water generation extracts the water directly from water vapour that exists in the very air we breathe, transforming humidity into an abundant source of clean water. Using a refrigeration-based process, moist air is passed over a cold surface, which condenses the moisture into droplets that are captured, filtered, sterilized, and stored for use. The air is chilled to the dew point, and the moisture is condensed and filtered to the point of purity that it could be consumed.
Water can be produced using 100 percent outside air, in areas with humidity levels as low as 40 percent – ideal for the Caribbean climate. Most systems run on simple electricity, and only need modest maintenance consisting of filter changes and general cleaning, resulting in a simple “plug-and-play” water generator that for the most part operates and maintains itself.
Water is the world’s most abundant resource – 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in it – but it’s not always readily available when and where it’s needed most. The Caribbean islands are surrounded by water, yet the worst drought in years persists. By utilizing available technologies, the impact of the drought in the Caribbean can be lessened, and its citizens can continue to live healthy lives.