In the Greater Caribbean region there are serious water pollution problems and a constant increase in the amounts of solid wastes that are disposed of. Water pollution, including that of ocean water, is mainly caused by industrial discharge, the disposal of untreated used household water, runoff (urban and rural), oil spills, sedimentation, the presence of excessive nutrients, accumulation of toxic substances and salt intrusion into coastal aquifers. It is well known that the availability of good quality water is important not only for direct consumption by the population and as a medium for various aquatic ecosystems, which support plant and animal species of great ecological importance, but also because it is an indispensable resource for the development of industrial, agricultural, livestock, commercial, and tourism and recreation activities.
Only 25% of the region’s population has access to sewage systems, while 52% relies on latrines, a situation that varies by country and is most critical in Haiti, St. Kitts, Montserrat and Grenada. As is well known, a lack of sanitary services and the inappropriate disposal of used water present a great risk to public health. Similarly, the size of the population that lacks access to potable water services in the region reaches into the millions, which adds an additional health risk for the population.
Finally, ocean waters face a serious pollution risk, not only in the Caribbean islands but also in the continental countries that border the Caribbean Basin. This is due to commercial and tourism shipping, which have been responsible for spills of hydrocarbons and other petroleum-derived products.
At the same time, the increased generation of solid wastes and the inappropriate disposal of them are especially worrisome. A substantial portion of solid wastes are burned in the open air, while others are deposited in inappropriate landfills, such as those in wetlands, near bodies of water or on steep slopes. Disposal of solid wastes in these forms puts the health of the population at risk due to the pollution of bodies of water by leachates and the proliferation of animals and vermin that can transmit diseases and cause epidemics.
In conclusion, the governments of the region should develop integrated strategies to confront the problems of water pollution and solid wastes. These strategies must include, as one of their priorities, a contribution by shipping, including cruise ships, to help solve the problem. It is calculated that a cruise ship with three thousand passengers generates between 400 and 1,200 cubic meters of wastewater per day, which includes drainage from washing machines and dishwashers and the use of showers and sinks. It also produces 70 liters of hazardous wastes, such as the chemicals used to develop photographs, paint, solvents, printer cartridges, batteries and cleaning fluids. It is essential, then, that both regional and local environmental policies be coordinated to deal with the problem of water pollution in the pursuit of a better relationship with our environment today, but above all, for the future generations.
Author: Carlos Maysonet
Published: December 26, 2011.
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