Article: Freshwater Situation in the Caribbean

From islands with no permanent flowing streams to those with inland waters, the Caribbean contains a great range of conditions regarding the access to freshwater resources. The ability of islands in the region to retain freshwater varies due to land territory and position of the island in Atlantic Ocean. There are two major drivers of freshwater usage in the region: An increasing demand of basic water in urban population, as well as the tourism-based economies. The implementation of preservation of freshwater practices also varies widely and are very island specific, some rely on informal conservation approaches on individual level, and some on governmental programmes, however most islands have integrated the tactics at some levels.

In this blog you will learn more about: Water Security, The drivers of insecurity, Surface Water, Groundwater, Implementation Strategies on Governmental level, and the Outlook on future.

Water Security

Evidence on the growing importance of global water scarcity can be attached to multiple United Nations Sessions being held in preparation to 2023 UN Water Decade Conference. Sustainability and an accelerated action plan to address worldwide Water Security issue are on top of the agenda, the headline being “To recognize water as one of the top security concerns facing the global community”. In other words, the World is at risk that the growing water insecurity can lead to social unrest.

The SDG – Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations consist of 17 key topics, such as: Poverty, Affordable Clean Energy, Peace, etc. The idea is to address the most striking and important global issues and make changes in those industries one by one. The topic of Water is raised more often than any other, starting with dealing with toxic wastes, cleaning the rubbish island, and continuing with a long list of actions to minimise the human impact on the worldwide ecosystems.

On a smaller scale UNESCO has raised the issue on the islands surrounded by saline water, that are prone to intrusions, as part of the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) programme. 71% of SIDS risk of water shortage, a figure than may rise to 91% with particularly low altitude. It is a major challenge for the countries that are at risk of floods, tsunamis, and hurricanes.

Water Security is seen as an integral part of human security and is crucial to the achievement of other rights, such as the right to life, education, health, and housing. The key is to be able to afford freshwater at an adequate pricing, while preserving the ecosystems that provide water to begin with.

The common elements of Water Security are defined by The 4 As.

  • Adequacy

addresses conditions governing water resource availability in time and space.

  • Accessibility

is complemented by physical accessibility, ensuring that water is available when and where it is needed.

  • Assurance

concerns the ability to secure safe and sufficient resources to cope with potential system shocks such as extreme events, security threats, and contaminated resources.

  • Affordability

applies to providers of water services and those who must obtain those services and is related to how water management and services are to be paid for.

Drivers of Insecurity

Considering the basic definition of Water Security, it is much simpler to define and stress what are the drivers that put access or amounts of freshwater at risk in the Caribbean.

The Caribbean being the tropical region, there are two distinct seasons: dry and wet summer hurricane seasons. The changes in climate vary greatly from droughts to heavy downpours, making the water bodies evaporate and fill all year round. Thus, water resources are determined by interaction of climate, geology, topography, and sea level rise.

According to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the small islands are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change and Caribbean islands are likely to experience increased water stress. Hurricane activities often damage pipes and dam constructions. The region has recognised its vulnerability and with Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) developed a strategy and implementation plan to address and mitigate the key issues of climate change.

However, the situation is more complex than natural causes. Some islands exploit their water recourses to the levels of beyond their natural renewable pace, leaving only an option of artificial solution of water recharge.

Surface Water

Caribbean Surface Water is a mixture of North Atlantic surface waters, Amazon River water, and local freshwater runoff from South America. Low presence of plankton is what makes Caribbean waters so famously crystal clear. Many of the islands predominantly use their surface water for their water supplies. The urbanisation of islands has affected higher peak flows, downstream flooding, and overall reduction in base stream flows. The effects of catchment conversion can be mostly seen in Haiti and its devastating floods. Such decrease in surface water quantity impacts water production.


The average annual rainfall affects the ability to of groundwater to recharge. Some islands make use of groundwater for public water supply, meanwhile the groundwater heavily depend on weather conditions to sustain itself. Recharge usually occurs in the peak wet season months, and it is key that the monthly rainfall is above the threshold of 195 mm monthly. Another important issue is to keep the groundwater from contamination with the proper management of sewage and waste systems to prevent high levels of nitrates flowing inland.

Implementation Strategies on Governmental Level

Over the past 50 years, national governments have invested in infrastructure upgrades, including mains replacement, water treatment plants and leakage reduction initiatives. According to the Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management, up to 85% of wastewater across the Caribbean is untreated.

Water demand is expected to increase by 30% by 2050, mostly due to industrial development, thus creating an urgent need for innovations that can help replenish the volume of available fresh water in a sustainable way. Of these, desalination and atmospheric water generation have held the most promise.

Over the past decade, 68 new desalination plants have been built across the region, with a capacity of 782,000 cubic meters of purified water per day (Caribbean Desalination Association).

Atmospheric water generation (AWG), a process that extracts, filters, sterilizes and stores water directly from vapor that exists in the air, offers a more environmentally sustainable alternative to desalination, and has generated a big discussion in scientific and water community, mostly with positive reactions.

Outlook for the future

Innovations are a great deal of help in preventing some regions from drying out. Go to report to learn more about The Five Trends That Will Impact the Water Industry coming decade, as well as if you’re eager to get a great overview on Water and how essential it is to humankind.

As a special THREE-PART report, BDO’s AQUA Point-of-View series provides insights on the role of water in our world. Part TWO and THREE will be released over the next few weeks.