The World’s Thirst for Change: Health and Water Sustainability in the Caribbean

Dr. Ayanna Alexander, a medical doctor and public health expert from Trinidad and Tobago, has seen first-hand the devastating effects of water scarcity on patient health. She completed an internship at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC) in Belize this year, where she shared her views as a supporter of Caricom and emphasized the need to be role models for the world by focusing on environmental and environmental determinants to improve health and increase resilience.

The Caribbean region is accustomed to the devastating effects of climate change. The impact on the region’s water resources is severe, posing a significant threat to public health. Increasingly frequent and intense storms and hurricanes, rising sea levels and drought are all contributing factors. Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico in 2017 left hospitals and clinics without safe drinking water, resulting in a surge in waterborne diseases. Menstrual periods also exacerbate the spread of waterborne and foodborne illnesses due to poor hygiene practices.

As water scarcity increases, farmers find it difficult to provide food. Some even water their plants with unclean water, creating a potential risk of disease. The quantity and quality of fresh water sources, such as surface water and groundwater, are also affected, leading to water scarcity and increased water acquisition costs. SIDS in this region are highly dependent on rainwater harvesting and are particularly vulnerable to declining rainwater availability.

In 2019-2020, Barbados was hit by severe drought for several months, prompting the installation of community water tanks in remote parishes. Dr. Adrian Cashman, a water resource management expert and chair of the Technical Committee of the Global Water Partnership Caribbean (GWP-C), seeks to better understand some of the interrelated gaps facing the region and the impacts of changing weather patterns. Long-term planning is needed, as well as revisiting local approaches to wastewater management.

Despite these challenges and gaps, Dr. Cashman is optimistic that solutions will be found. The links between climate change, water resources, and public health are clear, and prioritizing water safety and security for all people in the world is vital. Providing an alternative water source can protect educational opportunities and ensure a safe learning environment. As climate change continues to impact water resources and pose a threat to public health, it is imperative that we take action.

Together, we can create change, protect our communities, and preserve our precious water resources for a safer and healthier future.

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