Con­sid­er­ing the Fu­ture we Want on World Wa­ter Day 2015 - San­i­ta­tion for All?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

“De­spite im­pres­sive gains made over the last decade, 748 mil­lion peo­ple do not have ac­cess to an im­proved source of drink­ing wa­ter and 2.5 bil­lion do not use an im­proved san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­ity. In­vest­ments in wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion ser­vices re­sult in sub­stan­tial eco­nomic gains. The re­turn on in­vest­ment of at­tain­ing uni­ver­sal ac­cess to im­proved san­i­ta­tion has been es­ti­mated at 5.5 to 1, whereas for uni­ver­sal ac­cess of im­proved drink­ing wa­ter sources the ra­tion is es­ti­mated to be 2 to 1.” - UN Wa­ter: http://www.unwater. org/world­wa­ter­day

UN Wa­ter es­ti­mates that: “500,000 chil­dren die ev­ery year from di­ar­rhoea caused by un­safe wa­ter and poor san­i­ta­tion”.

It’s tempt­ing for us in the Caribbean to think that our coun­tries don’t con­trib­ute to this num­ber but statis­tics from any of the re­gional health agen­cies would con­firm oth­er­wise. Through­out the Caribbean there are poor com­mu­ni­ties with­out ba­sic san­i­ta­tion. Two weeks ago, par­tic­i­pants in a Gov­er­nance and San­i­ta­tion Work­shop, or­ga­nized by the Caribbean Devel­op­ment Bank (CDB) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Global En­vi­ron­ment Fa­cil­ity-funded Caribbean Re­gional Fund for Waste­water Man­age­ment (GEF CReW) Project, the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme Caribbean Re­gional Co­or­di­nat­ing Unit and the Caribbean Wa­ter and Sew­er­age As­so­ci­a­tion (CAWASA), vis­ited a squat­ters’ com­mu­nity in St. John’s, the cap­i­tal of An­tigua & Bar­buda. There, at most, waste­water goes into sep­tic tanks (which are of­ten not prop­erly main­tained) then to sur­face drains which run down to the sea. Hu­man waste is still some­times bagged and tossed for dis­posal, and communal la­trines, few and far be­tween, are poorly main­tained. This is not an un­com­mon sit­u­a­tion in the Wider Caribbean Re­gion. This says a lot about the real gap that ex­ists be­tween “San­i­ta­tion for All” and the re­al­ity. While the ma­jor­ity of us in the Caribbean may have flush-toi­lets which dis­charge to sewer sys­tems or to on-site sys­tems such as sep­tic tanks that pro­vide some level of treat­ment, there are still many among us who strug­gle with this daily chal­lenge.

For those who lack even ba­sic san­i­ta­tion, the suf­fer­ing caused by this is not only about the hard­ship and in­dig­nity of hav­ing to “make-do”, it is also the sick­ness that re­sults when coastal wa­ters be­come pol­luted by un­treated waste. At worst, stag­nant, oxy­gen-starved, pol­luted wa­ters lap our shores killing marine life and mak­ing us sick. We of­ten don’t even make the link­ages … the ear, eye and skin in­fec­tions suf­fered by swim­mers and bathers, and the dwin­dling num­bers of fish be­ing net­ted by fisher-folk are caused by the do­mes­tic and industrial con­tam­i­nants we put into wa­ter­ways and the sea. So what can we do?

The is­sues of san­i­ta­tion (i.e. the pro­vi­sion of clean drink­ing wa­ter and ad­e­quate sewage dis­posal) and waste­water treat­ment (i.e. the process of re­mov­ing con­tam­i­nants from waste­water) are in­ter­twined. Both af­fect living con­di­tions and hu­man health and are con­sid­ered crit­i­cal is­sues at ev­ery level.

The Pro­to­col on the Con­trol of Land-based Sources of Marine Pol­lu­tion, re­ferred to as the LBS Pro­to­col, of­fers Caribbean coun­tries some help. In the Wider Caribbean Re­gion, over 80% of do­mes­tic waste­water en­ters the Caribbean Sea un­treated mak­ing sewage the num­ber one point source of marine pol­lu­tion in the re­gion. In 1999, gov­ern­ments of the Wider Caribbean Re­gion sig­nalled their com­mit­ment to ad­dress land-based sources of marine pol­lu­tion when they agreed to the LBS Pro­to­col. This Pro­to­col forms part of the only legally bind­ing re­gional agree­ment for the pro­tec­tion and devel­op­ment of the Caribbean Sea – the Carta­gena Con­ven­tion and eleven coun­tries in the re­gion have signed this agree­ment to date.

Sign­ing onto the LBS Pro­to­col com­mits gov­ern­ments to make ma­jor im­prove­ments in waste­water man­age­ment by in­tro­duc­ing in­no­va­tive and cost ef­fec­tive treat­ment tech­nolo­gies, im­prov­ing pol­icy, reg­u­la­tory and in­sti­tu­tional frame­works, and ex­pand­ing ac­cess to af­ford­able fi­nanc­ing. The GEF CReW Project, which be­gan in 2011 and is be­ing co-im­ple­mented by the In­terAmer­i­can Devel­op­ment Bank (IDB) and the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme (UNEP), is one of the ini­tia­tives that is meant to help. It aims to: pro­vide sus­tain­able fi­nanc­ing for the waste­water sec­tor; sup­port pol­icy and leg­isla­tive re­forms; and foster re­gional dia­logue and knowl­edge ex­change. It does this through three in­ter­linked com­po­nents: in­vest­ment and sus­tain­able fi­nanc­ing; re­forms for waste­water man­age­ment; and com­mu­ni­ca­tions out­reach and train­ing.

GEF CReW re­cently pub­lished a Re­gional Waste­water Man­age­ment Pol­icy Tem­plate and Tool­kit which is specif­i­cally de­signed to as­sist waste­water man­agers, chief tech­nocrats or se­nior pol­icy of­fi­cers to im­prove ca­pac­ity in de­vel­op­ing and im­ple­ment­ing waste­water man­age­ment poli­cies to im­prove the man­age­ment of the sec­tor. Rec­og­niz­ing the need to raise public aware­ness of waste man­age­ment and re­lated is­sues, it has pro­duced a range of in­for­ma­tion prod­ucts in­clud­ing doc­u­men­tary videos, fact and brief­ing sheets, news­let­ters and posters. Th­ese are avail­able on the project web­site:

March 22nd is World Wa­ter Day and the theme for 2015 is ‘Wa­ter and Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment’. It re­minds us about how wa­ter links to all ar­eas we need to con­sider such as health, na­ture, ur­ban­iza­tion, in­dus­try, en­ergy, food and equal­ity, if we are to cre­ate the fu­ture we want. It also re­minds us that im­prov­ing san­i­ta­tion and waste­water treat­ment as well as ex­plor­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties for see­ing waste­water as a re­source must be­come part of the devel­op­ment agenda. Ac­cess to clean wa­ter and to san­i­ta­tion as well as good man­age­ment of the waste­water we gen­er­ate are all es­sen­tial as­pects of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. To con­tinue to ne­glect them, even as we find re­sources to do other “more im­por­tant” things, puts our peo­ple at a dis­ad­van­tage and steadily di­min­ishes the value of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, upon which our fu­ture and liveli­hoods de­pend.

Dwelling with no san­i­ta­tion.

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