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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


March-April 2012

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Confronting the Challenges of Sewerage Management in the Caribbean: A Case Study from the Island of Barbados

On a clear day on the west coast of Barbados, a vacationer walking barefoot on white sand past modern, high-end hotels, swaying palms, and the clear blue-green sea will be hard pressed to find anything amiss. It's a paradise, to most minds, to which upward of a half million tourists flock each year. The idea that Caribbean islands like Barbados continue to face concerns over wastewater and sewage management is not likely to intrude into most vacationers' imaginations. Yet evidence for it lies just beneath the surface of the sea: coral reefs are under threat or degrading throughout the waters surrounding the Caribbean islands.1 A growing body of research has identified two of the most serious contributing factors as coastal developments that give rise to sewage discharge and sediment and pollution from inland sources. Estimates hold that these and other human activities threaten nearly two-thirds of the reefs in the region.2

As in other developing countries, sewerage infrastructure in the Caribbean has not kept pace with the economic development spurred largely by the growing tourism and services sectors, with most countries still relying on on-site sewage treatment. Barbados, for example, introduced in the 1970s a phased program of introducing sewerage services to its main urban areas: the capital Bridgetown and centers along the island's south and west coasts. The Bridgetown and south coast projects have since been completed, but although planning for the West Coast Sewerage Project (WCSP) began in the late 1990s and involved a number of detailed feasibility studies, the project has yet to be implemented. Because significant changes have occurred in conditions, requirements, and expectations, the system appears to be outmoded even before the first pipe has been fitted. In the meantime, the existing patchwork of urban systems and on-site treatment remains woefully behind the demands of the population and a burgeoning tourist trade.

Leonard Nurse is a senior lecturer at the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) and is responsible for the climate change specialization program. His research interests focuses on human impact on coastal dynamics, integrated coastal management, and the impact of climate change on small island environments. Nurse is a member of the scientific team of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (dating back to 1990), which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize for its contribution to global climate change research. Prior to his appointment with CERMES, Nurse held the posts of director, Coastal Zone Management Unit, and permanent secretary, Ministry of Environment, Barbados.

Adrian Cashman is a lecturer in Water Resources Management with more than 25 years of experience in the water sector. He has been course coordinator for the water resources specialization program within CERMES since 2007. His research interests include water policy, regulation and governance, the evaluation of institutional frameworks, urban flood risk management, and the impact of climate change on water resources in the Caribbean. He has worked in the United Kingdom, Southern Africa, and the Caribbean and has undertaken projects for the Food and Agricultural Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and UNICEF, among others.

John Mwansa is the manager of engineering at the Barbados Water Authority, where he is responsible for coordinating all engineering activities relating to water distribution. Prior to his current appointment, he was project manager of the comprehensive Water Resources Management & Water Loss Study (1995–1997), of which the results provided baseline data for reducing the high percentage of unaccounted-for water at BWA. Mwansa has represented Barbados at many regional and international fora on water resources management.

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