Thirst for Change – A Caribbean Story of Health and Water Sustainability

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Photo: © Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC). Retrieved from

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The Caribbean is no stranger to the devastating effects of climate change, and the impact on the region’s water resources has been severe, posing a significant threat to public health. Increasingly, frequent and intense storms and hurricanes, rising sea levels, and droughts all contribute to water pollution, contamination, dehydration, and the spread of waterborne diseases.

Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico in 2017 is a prime example of how damaging water supply systems can leave hospitals and clinics without safe drinking water, resulting in a surge of waterborne illnesses that place vulnerable populations at risk of serious health issues.

In addition to hurricanes, coastal flooding and rising sea levels can cause salt water to contaminate freshwater sources, making it difficult for people to access potable water sources. Water scarcity caused by climate-induced dry periods also leads to decreased hygiene and sanitation practices that exacerbate the spread of waterborne and foodborne illnesses. “When water is scarce, farmers have difficulty providing food,” says Dr. Alexander, adding, “We have had instances where farmers have been watering plants with unclean water which increases those potential risks for illnesses.”

As the impact of climate change on the Caribbean’s water resources continues to worsen, Dr Cashman highlights some of the interconnected gaps that the region faces and the need to incorporate climate change predictions into hydrology models to better understand the impact of changing weather patterns. Long-term planning is needed as well as reconsideration of the region’s approach to wastewater management.

Despite these challenges and gaps, Dr. Cashman remains optimistic that solutions can be found. “There has been a growing momentum in the Caribbean to address water management issues and innovative solutions are being developed to adapt to a changing climate,” states Dr Cashman. “Efforts are also being made to mobilize financing to implement solutions, indicating progress in the region’s water management practices.”

The linkages between climate change, water resources, and public health are clear, and it is crucial to prioritize the safety and security of water for all people in the region.

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