“One of the high priority issues identified [in the Caribbean] has been sewage and domestic wastewater,” Christopher Corbin, a program manager at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said.
For many years, wastewater has been a concern for governments in the Caribbean. According to the Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (CReW), 80 – 90% of wastewater entering the Caribbean sea is untreated, about 52% of Caribbean households lack sewer connections and only 17% of Caribbean households are connected to standard collection and treatment wastewater systems.
“All of the studies had shown that sewage is the number one point source of pollution impacting the Caribbean sea, human health and our coral reefs,” Corbin said.
Corbin’s team, who is located in Kingston, Jamaica, was assigned the task of assisting Caribbean countries in responding to the domestic sewage and wastewater problem.
There were three main goals of CReW:
- To develop a sustainable financing mechanism for wastewater management.
- To provide support and improve policies, legislation and regulations regarding the discharge and treatment of wastewater.
- To increase the general knowledge, awareness and attitude regarding wastewater management.
The first phase of CReW, which was funded by the Global Environment Facility(GEF), launched in 2012 and ended in 2017. It targeted wastewater management in its entirety in four pilot countries (Belize, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and Jamaica). For the remaining Caribbean countries, the project mainly addressed policies and regulations.
Developing sustainable financing proved most challenging in phase I of the project. Initially the team considered a regional fund that all Caribbean governments could tap into and use for wastewater management.
“After the project started, we realized that was an over ambitious goal,” Corbin said. The team resort to sustainable financing at a national level.
Guyana had the weakest policy and regulatory framework for wastewater making it difficult to come up with an effective sustainable financing plan.
“Even when money is available… if there isn’t the enabling policies, institutional and legal framework at a country level, the willingness to move in that direction is not high,” Corbin said.
Despite their efforts, implementing sustainable financing for wastewater management was not successful in Guyana.
In Jamaica, however, a sustainable finance mechanism proved very successful. The country’s water commission was granted permission to collect a monthly utility surcharge (The K-Factor) from citizens to be used in the treatment of wastewater. This mechanism is still in place today.
The CReW project was able to bring awareness to the issue of wastewater management in many Caribbean communities with the help of local journalists. Corbin and his team also partnered with major educational institutions such as the University of Technology in Jamaica and the University of Mexico. The latter of the two created a class educating students about wastewater.
In an effort to address weak wastewater policies and regulations, CReW also created model policies, plans and regulations for wastewater treatment infrastructure.
“For a few countries, we actually saw them using these (policies) to update their national regulations regarding the discharge of wastewater,” Corbin said. Antigua & Barbuda and Jamaica were two of the countries that used the model policies.
“We know we’ve improved because we see evidence of better treatment systems being built but we also know that there have been increased pressures,” Corbin said.
Pressures such as population growth, urbanization and an increase in the development of coastal tourism. All of which may have hindered the level of impact of this project.
“CReW was maybe too small of a project to make that big dent in the numbers,” Corbin said. “To do that you really need billions of dollars.”
A second assessment of wastewater in Caribbean coastal waters has not been done yet. However, this is something that will be addressed in phase II of the project.
CReW Phase II
Development on Phase II of the project has already begun. Corbin and his team are now preparing the final project proposal for donors.
In this second phase, the project is going to narrow its sustainable financing focus down from a national level to a community level. The team also wants to focus on engagement from the private sector.
“We are now trying to see what other kinds of innovative financing mechanisms could be used to support community-led and private-sector interventions,” Corbin said.
The team is looking into things like green bonds, blue bonds, and payments for ecosystem services rather than relying on increased tariffs and taxes.
The second phase is looking at more integration between water and wastewater management. This allows governments to look at ways in which wastewater can be used as a resource.
“It is taking a more integrated approach, where wastewater is seen as a potential resource and not just a problem,” Corbin said.
Corbin shared that wastewater can be used to augment water supply in certain types of irrigations, it could be used to extract nutrients and it could used to extract energy from the sludge.
The GEF has already approved the funding for Phase II.