NIA Environment Minister delivers address to mark World Water Day 2023

NIA CHARLESTOWN NEVIS (March 22, 2023) — The following is an address delivered by Hon. Spencer Brand, Minister responsible for Environment in the Nevis Island Administration (NIA) to mark World Water Day 2023 observed on March 22.

As we celebrate World Water Day 2023, I speak to us from the standpoint of climate change and the effect that phenomenon has on the globe. It is also an opportunity to remind us of Sustainable Development Goal 6: Water and Sanitation for all by 2030.

Climate change is primarily a water crisis. We feel its impacts through worsening floods, rising sea levels, shrinking ice fields, wildfires and in our local context, droughts. However, water can fight climate change.

Sustainable water management is central to building the resilience of societies and ecosystems and to reducing carbon emissions. Everyone has a role to play – actions at the individual and household levels are vital.

Water and climate change are inextricably linked. Extreme weather events are making water more scarce, more unpredictable, more polluted, and in some cases, a combination of all three.

These impacts throughout the water cycle threaten sustainable development, biodiversity, and people’s access to water and sanitation.

Flooding and rising sea levels can contaminate land and water resources with saltwater or fecal matter and cause damage to water and sanitation infrastructure such as water points, wells, toilets and wastewater treatment facilities.

Glaciers, ice caps and snow fields are rapidly disappearing. Meltwater feeds many of the great river systems. Volatility in the cryosphere can affect the regulation of freshwater resources for vast numbers of people in lowland areas.

Droughts and wildfires are destabilizing communities and triggering civil unrest and migration in many areas. Destruction of vegetation and tree cover exacerbate soil erosion and reduces groundwater recharge, increasing water scarcity and food insecurity.

Growing demand for water increases the need for energy-intensive water pumping, transportation, and treatment, and has contributed to the degradation of critical water-dependent carbon sinks such as peatlands.

Water-intensive agriculture for food production particularly meat and for growing crops used as biofuels, can further exacerbate water scarcity.

Climate policymakers must put water at the heart of action plans. Sustainable water management helps society adapt to climate change by building resilience, protecting health and saving lives. It also mitigates climate change itself by protecting ecosystems and reducing carbon emissions from water and sanitation transportation and treatment.

Governments must cooperate across national borders to balance the water needs of communities, industry, agriculture and ecosystems.

Innovative financing for water resource management will be needed to help attract investment, create jobs, and support governments in fulfilling their water and climate goals.

Sustainable, affordable and scalable water solutions include:

• Improving carbon storage

Peatlands store at least twice as much carbon as all of earth’s forests. Mangrove soils can sequester up to three or four times more carbon than terrestrial soils. Protecting and expanding these types of environments can have a major impact on climate change.

• Protecting natural buffers

Coastal mangroves and wetlands are effective and inexpensive natural barriers to flooding, extreme weather events and erosion, as the vegetation helps regulate water flow and binds the soil in floodplains, river banks and coastlines.

• Harvesting rainwater

Rainwater capture is particularly useful in regions with uneven rainfall distribution to build resilience to shocks and ensure supplies for dry periods. Techniques include rooftop capture for small-scale use and surface dams to slow run-off to reduce soil erosion and increase aquifer recharge.

• Adopting climate-smart agriculture

Using conservation techniques to improve organic matter to increase soil moisture retention; drip irrigation; reducing post-harvest losses and food waste; and transforming waste into a source of nutrients or biofuels/biogas.

• Reusing wastewater

Unconventional water resources such as regulated treated wastewater can be used for irrigation and industrial and municipal purposes. Safely managed wastewater is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials and;

• Harnessing groundwater

In many places, groundwater is overused and polluted; in other places it is an unknown quantity. Exploring, protecting and sustainably using groundwater is central to adapting to climate change and meeting the needs of a growing population.

Fellow Nevisians, what I just reported is from a global perspective even though there are aspects that apply to our local environment. For years now, we have been experiencing the effects of climate change as our water resource have been constantly depleting.

On Nevis, our point source for our water are aquifers deep underground. In recent years we have seen the fall in water levels of these aquifers, even to the point where saltwater intrusion has begun to be realized. Ideally, these aquifers should be rested for extended periods for effective recharge, but for us, that is impossible at this time.

The recent CDB [Caribbean Development Bank] Water Enhancement and Storage project saw the installation of new and improved water transmission and distribution lines, as well as the erection of six new water storage tanks in Maddens, Camps, Spring Hill, Morgan Estate, Fothergills and Stoney Hill, with storage capacities ranging from 180,000 gallons (Morgan Estate) to 300,000 gallons (Spring Hill and Stoney Hill). Even more recently, we have seen the replacement of fiberglass tanks at Hamilton and Pond Hill (Zetlands).

These two tanks provide storage capacities of 300,000 gallons and 250,000 gallons respectively but that is only part of the process. Given the current conditions it is imperative that new sources of water be found expeditiously, in order that we can have water enough to keep up with the rapid developments being experienced on the island.

Your government is well aware of this reality and will do what we can to meet those obligations but the administration cannot do it alone. We need the cooperation and support of all stakeholders in protecting and preserving this very vital resource.

Rainwater harvesting (cisterns and/or tanks) is very much encouraged when building. Show appreciation for the resource by being prudent when using it.

Minimize or reduce wastage. As you move around and you observe leaks in the system, please report it to the Nevis Water Department. The number to call is: 469-5979 (during normal working hours) and for after working hours and emergencies, please call 665-9061 or 763-5319. Water is Life!

This World Water Day is about accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis across the world and because water affects us all, we need everyone to take action. You and our family, school, and community can make a difference by changing the way you use, consume and manage water in your lives.

This is a once-in-a-generation moment for the world to unite around water. Play your part. Do what you can. Right now we are seriously off track to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Water and Sanitation for all by 2030. Billions of people and countless schools, businesses, healthcare centers, farms and factories, don’t have the safe water and toilets they need.

We must ensure that we do even more to make additional resources available, to deploy more modern technology and skill sets in an effort to accelerate change.

Happy World Water Day 2023, and may God continue to bless us all.

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