Caribbean region looking  at wastewater as resource
December 6, 2013
Caribbean region looking at wastewater as resource

Although the term “wastewater” may not bring to mind positive visuals, countries all over the Caribbean are beginning to look at wastewater as a resource.{{more}}

Wastewater can be defined as used water that contains dissolved or suspended solids, that is discharged from homes, commercial establishments, farms and industries. In some cases, wastewater also contains sewage.

Last week, journalists from across the region converged in Guyana, where they were enlightened about cost-effective treatment and various ways in which wastewater can be utilized.

Dr Lystra Fletcher-Paul, representative from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told journalists that wastewater can be viewed as a resource, particularly in agriculture.

“For the Caribbean, the situation with water is this, you have countries like Barbados, Haiti, Dominican Republic which are likely to be water stressed by 2025. You have rainfall patterns and the distribution shows that during the dry season, there is water stress in some areas of the country…and if you add to that equation, climate change…it’s predicted that we’re going to have higher temperatures, higher rates of evapo-transpiration. It means that the situation is going to be exacerbated in some countries,” Fletcher-Paul said.

She also noted that if a country is to experience a massive drought, agriculture would be at a disadvantage.

“The rule is that whenever you have a drought, the first point of call is…water for domestic use. Then there’s water for tourism, there’s water for health and if you have any water remaining, you put it for agriculture,” the FAO representative said.

“You cannot be serious about food security if you’re going to put water for agriculture as your last priority, because water is an important component, an important input for agriculture production and if you think about Caribbean agriculture and food security, where we are spending $4 billion every year to import food, and we are going through a financial crisis…we must grow our own food. And if we’re talking about growing our own food, we must have water. It’s as simple as that”.

While she noted that countries are using wastewater for irrigation and aquaculture, Fletcher-Paul stressed that water recycling is not without its health risks.

These include pathogens, heavy metals, toxic organic compounds, which can in turn become a risk to human health, the environment and crop productivity.

“The risk can be managed,” she said, however.

“There are multiple barriers which can be used. For example, you can restrict the types of crops that you would grow on this recycled water.

“You can decide that you are not going to use very polluted water on things like lettuce, tomatoes and patchoi where the leaves are what you consume”.

In fact, she explained several treatment and water management techniques that can be used to make wastewater safe for use.

“In terms of water treatment, instead of or in addition to these large treatment plants…there are small scale technologies that are being used on the farm to purify water,” Fletcher-Paul said.

One of these technologies includes a filtering system that uses tires, gravel, fine sand and charcoal to filter water that was used in the kitchen and channel it onto the farm.

The FAO representative stressed that something of this calibre can be very cost-effective and beneficial to persons.

“Some of the benefits ,of course, are that if you use wastewater, you will have a constant availability of water,” she said.

Among other things, Fletcher-Paul noted that there will be better food safety and a reduction in pollution and the carbon footprint.