Whilst developments in the research and policy communities are starting to advance our understanding of some of the challenges climate change will pose to the regional water sector, there is a noticeable gap between research outputs, and their transposition from the science to the policy domain, and their use and relevance in informing evidence-based decision-making.
In recognising this gap, the Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C) saw the need and opportunity to convene a Caribbean Science Symposium on Water; the first of its kind for the region. The three-day virtual event commenced after World Water Day (celebrated on March 22nd) from March 23rd – 25th, 2021 under the theme: “Building Resilience in the Regional Water Sector to Address Climatological and Hydrological Risks and Threats.”
In hosting the event, GWP-C was pleased to have the support of its Symposium Partners: Caribbean WaterNet (Cap-Net), The Faculty of Food and Agriculture of The University of the West Indies (UWI) St. Augustine Campus, The Global Environment Facility-funded CReW+ Project and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Caribbean.
According to many participants “this was not your usual online event.” The Symposium which was rolled out over three (3) half days, brought together the science and policy communities in a dynamic and very interactive way. Participants included representatives from the research, science, development, economic, legislative and policy communities, practitioners from water and related sectors, young professionals, young environmental entrepreneurs, university students and more, to share and discuss ideas on ongoing scientific studies, initiatives, innovations and best practices related to enhancing water secure developments and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) in the Caribbean. More than one hundred and fifty (150) participants attended the event on each day.
High-quality scientific, research, technical, exploratory papers, insights, possible solutions and more were shared throughout the event based on the following format:
- Keynote Presentations
- Paper Sessions under the following broad themes:
- Water and Climate Change
- Public Health and Water Quality
- Wastewater Management
- Moderated Sessions targeted at regional organisations, representatives from research, science, development, economic, legislative and policy communities, water and other sector specialists, government ministers, permanent secretaries, heads of water utilities, funding agencies and more on:
- “Bridging the Science-Policy Divide”
- “Time to Take a Regional Approach to Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)
- Roundtable Discussions on:
- Youth and Water
- Wastewater Management
- Special Session on Young Caribbean Water Entrepreneurs
What was refreshing about the event though it was held entirely online, was that it was very interactive, consistently incorporating elements or tools for participants to ask questions and share their knowledge and insights on various topics and issues raised at the Symposium.
The keynote presentation on the first day of the Symposium was delivered by Professor Michael Taylor, a Professor of Climate Science and Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Campus in Jamaica. He is also a Coordinating Lead Author for Chapter 3 of the Special Report on 1.5 Degrees of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Professor Taylor also received the Silver Musgrave Medal for Science from the Institute of Jamaica and is the 2019 ANSA Caribbean Laureate for Excellence in Science.
In the opening of his keynote presentation, Professor Taylor established that his contribution focused on three (3) overarching takeaways from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC (1.5 Report). Recalling the substantive intention of the Paris Agreement, Professor Taylor established the then target of 2 ºC to be the key indicator for monitoring progress of the activities associated with the Agreement. He reminded participants that the Caribbean advocated strongly for 1.5 ºC.
Professor Taylor’s engaging presentation highlighted major realities in terms of climate change and its impacts on the Caribbean region. One of his key takeaways captured a current snapshot of the advancement towards the agreement targets, with a view to identifying progress or regressions regarding the outcomes. Professor Taylor acknowledged that we are already at 1 ºC and the associated events are proving to be a challenge. In this current state, on average we are witnessing 23 more hot days and nights per year than usual, summers starting earlier and lasting longer than usual.
Additionally, the increasing temperature is making rainfall more variable from year to year and also in terms of the patterns associated with rainfall, less predictable. According to him “we are seeing longer dry spells and, on the occasion, greater floods.” He added that “This is worrying as the patterns present unfamiliarity, unreliability and unpredictability…this is important, since the Caribbean’s existence is directly linked to Climate Change.”
He also highlighted the trends and implications of the lack of critical action, following the Paris Agreement. Given the enormous climatic deviations mentioned above, which do not appear to be dissipating, he explained that it is highly likely that we are on track to surpassing 2 degrees; this means the climate is outside of the bounds of anticipated change. He strengthened this argument by reflecting on the occurrences in 2017, where there were three (3) category 5 hurricanes, in 2019 where hurricane Dorian struck The Bahamas and in that same year where the alphabet naming system had exhausted the options for names. He said that “when we are in the era of the unprecedented, the unprecedented limits the attainment of the SDGs.” Adding to the dilemma is the fact that there is competition for limited resources to tackle the issues, exacerbating the overall demand for such resources.
His final takeaway from the 1.5 Report was in the form of a call to action, which stressed the need to take immediate steps to prohibit the rapid deterioration of environmental conditions owing to human-induced global warming and climate change. He stressed “A livable tomorrow depends on what we do today. There is therefore a need to develop a strong mitigation agenda. As such, the water sector has a strong role to play and should have a loud voice in the environment for reversing the pace of advancing through to 2 degrees. We still have to adapt if we are to reach 1.5 (across all sectors). The water sector must be at the table when others are drafting their adaptation plans.”
An opening ceremony preceded the keynote presentation which included a feature address by Senator the Honourable Simon Stiell, Minister for Climate Resilience and the Environment of Grenada. Identifying the significance of matters pertaining to water resources, Minister Stiell made recollection of the important role that the current Prime Minister of Grenada played in the launch of the GWP-C back in June 2004 in Tobago. In his speech he commented “GWP-C is very dear to us and I congratulate you for hosing this Symposium.”
In his feature address, Minister Stiell lauded the many strides that Caribbean countries have made in terms of access to safe and affordable water supplies, but cautioned that challenges still existed, such as climate change, drought, hurricanes, pollution and sanitation. According to him “It is for this reason of vulnerability that water governance is imperative to progress.” He stated that the Symposium has a role to play in providing the science and evidence and that it will allow for greater scientific insight to the regional programmes, policies and action plans related to water management.
Also speaking at the opening ceremony were:
Ms. Simone Lewis, GWP-C Regional Coordinator, who acknowledged that the origins of the Caribbean Science Symposium on Water (CSSW) dated back to 2019 and that it was a reflection of analysis of multiple conferences in the region previously held, from which a gap between science and policy was clearly evident. According to her “GWP-C therefore took the initiative in helping to bridge that gap with a view to promoting more effective cooperation.”
Mr. Trevor Thompson, Global Water Partnership (GWP) Chair of Regional Chairs and GWP-C Chair, expressed his heartened appreciation for seeing the vision of the Symposium become a reality. Mr. Thompson stated “The mandate of GWP-C is to ensure the Caribbean is water-secure, and it has been assisting through the adoption of various national water policies and encouraging youth to participate in different forums. We will collaborate with various regional institutional partners such as the OECS and 5Cs, to ensure that the outputs of this Symposium are presented to policy makers across the region.”
Dr. Kevon Rhiney, Chair of GWP-C Technical Committee, noted the importance of water as an essential resource for multiple industries including tourism, agriculture, housing and renewable energy. Even though this is a known fact, he stated “there are still multiple challenges faced. In order to address the fundamental issues faced in the water sector there needs to be closer relations between science and policy. This needs to take place in a timely manner, so as to address vital issues and level the field of understanding on both sides.”
The Paper Session on day one (1) of the Symposium was on the theme “Water Security and Climate Change” and featured presentations under the following topics:
- Rapid Vulnerability Assessments for Adaptation for Planning in the Caribbean Water Utility Sector”
- Caribbean Water Funds
- Non-Revenue Water (NRW) in Caribbean Utilities
Day one (1) closed with a very interactive moderated session “Bridging the Science-Policy Divide” facilitated by Mr. Thompson, GWP Chair of Regional Chairs and GWP-C Chair. Panellists in this session included representatives from the:
- Water Resources Authority (WRA) of Jamaica
- National Water Commission (NWC) of Jamaica
- Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI)
- Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences(IICA)
- Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)
- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Cartagena Convention Secretariat and Caribbean Environment Programme
Day two (2) of the Symposium followed a similar format of the previous day but had a strong youth focus. The feature address on the second day was given by GWP’s new Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr. Darío Soto-Abril. In his remarks, he shared that his motivation for joining GWP, is the hope that all individuals should be able to enjoy the benefits of water accessibility.
Mr. Soto-Abril invited participants to take inspiration from the youth to lead to practicable solutions to the challenges we encounter. He stressed that there must be reflection on how our conversations, research, analysis and conclusions can lead to concrete and practical solutions. According to him “This will have the effect of boosting water change for many years in the Caribbean and globally.” He further added that “the actions we take to manage our water resources today, are linked to our reality.”
Following the GWP Executive Secretary and CEO’s feature address, GWP-C unveiled a painting to commemorate GWP’s 25th Anniversary this year. The painting was done by Grenadian artist Kwamina Brizan-Arnaud and is a tribute to GWP from GWP-C symbolising the entire GWP network’s ongoing work to mobilise change in the water sector.
Day two’s keynote address then followed, which was given by Ms. Rianna Gonzales, Youth Engagement Specialist at GWP. Ms. Gonzales is an experienced and dedicated water resources management professional, focused on bringing together science, water governance and youth empowerment. She is from Trinidad and Tobago and has been an active advocate for effective youth engagement through advocacy, capacity building and project implementation over the past ten (10) years, with various youth organisations such as the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network (CYCN) and the International Water Association (IWA).
Ms. Gonzales’ keynote address was very engaging and well received by participants. Her speech focused on the importance of youth and the need for their involvement in confronting challenges on water security. Accordingly, participants were invited to consider where youth fit among the two (2) spectrums of science and policy, as it relates to water security. She touched on many key areas such:
- Solutions being available to confront the region’s water challenges but at the same time, the region continues to suffer and remain susceptible to threats of water security. This was attributed to the fact that policy makers are seeking simple one-off solutions instead of practical ones and underestimating the time and resources needed to collect data thoroughly and responsibly to develop practical recommendations. Additionally, underestimating the youth’s ability to contribute to policy and innovation is the reason for current challenges.
- In the Caribbean we continue to be impacted by climate change. Moreover, we are at a critical juncture where our development agendas are to serve as a guide towards a sustainable future, as they are based on information and the predictive seasonality of the environment but can no longer be relied upon.
- Youth are influencers to policy change and there is a need to leverage their voice, as the voice of the community, country, and region. Ms. Gonzales articulated the need for evidence-based policies that are supported by relevant Caribbean research. Equally, the need for policy and research to align with society’s needs and must be known and accepted by communities to be applied and crafted into an innovative solution.
- The youth of the region were encouraged to use the research available or take the initiative to start their own research to build an evidence base for their cause in relation to water security with a relevant messages and make it available to decision-makers.
- Ms. Gonzales discussed many challenges in youth being heard but also emphasised there are several mechanisms for youth to get their message to decision makers.
In her address to Symposium participants, Ms. Gonzales also took the opportunity to highlight the introduction of a special pilot programme by GWP called the “Youth Water Academy” for youth to realise their potential in the water community and to become influencers and leaders in water resources management.
The day continued with very dynamic sessions which included the Young Caribbean Water Entrepreneurs Session, featuring the winners of the 2019 and 2020 GWP-C Young Caribbean Water Entrepreneurs Shark Tank Competition. Both winners were able to share about their winning projects and provide a progress update on their winning water ideas.
This session then led into a Roundtable Discussion on “Youth and Gender” with participants from various youth organisations such as:
- Ms. Jamilla Sealy, GWP (global) Steering Committee Member – holding the first-ever youth seat on the global Committee
- Water Youth Network (WYN)
- Caribbean Regional Youth Council (CRYC)
- Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC (YOUNGO)
- Haitian Youth Parliament for Water and Sanitation (HYPWS)
The day continued with a Paper Session under the theme “Water Security and Climate Change” with presentations on the following topics:
- “The science and engineering of water security under climate change and variability – Tobago”
- “Integrated soil and water management on smallholder family-farms in building resilience to climatological and hydrological risks and threats in Trinidad”
Day two concluded with a Paper Session on “Resilience” with presentations on:
- “Hydrological Modelling for Streamflow and Water Demand in Jamaica: case study from The Rio Cobre basin using SWAT and WEAP models”
- “Identification of risks in the water conduction infrastructure for supply systems, a strategy to increase resilience”
The final day of the Symposium was filled with the same dynamic energy that was felt and seen in the previous two (2) days. It included ongoing interactive activities and featured a Paper Session on “Public Health and Water Quality” with presentations on:
- “Examining the seasonal extent of riverine plumes and the effect of intense flooding events in the Gulf of Paria”
- “Nutrient concentrations in surface and subterranean water sources in the Southern Region of Grenada”
- "Water Poverty Index of three rural communities in the southern Caribbean"
There were also presentations and Roundtable Discussions on Wastewater Management focusing on:
- “Wastewater Management in the Caribbean: An Opportunity Analysis”
- “Building on GEF CReW: CReW+”
- “Put your Money, where your Water is!”
The roundtable discussion was facilitated by Mr. Christopher Corbin, Senior Programme Officer at the UNEP Cartagena Convention Secretariat and Caribbean Environment Programme and GWP-C Technical Committee Member. Participants in the roundtable discussion included representatives from the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA) and the Caribbean Water and Sewerage Association Inc. (CAWASA).
The 3-day Symposium culminated with a dynamic moderated session facilitated by Dr. Adrian Cashman (GWP and GWP-C Technical Committee Member) on “Time to take a regional approach to Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).” The session featured panellists from the following agencies:
- Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
- Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
- Green Climate Fund (GCF)
- Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences(IICA)
- National Hydrological Service of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Mining and Petroleum of Belize
- Soloricon Ltd.
GWP-C’s Caribbean Science Symposium on Water strongly highlighted the cross-cutting nature of the water sector in climate mitigation adaptation. It also stressed that the water sector must be at the table, when other sectors are developing their adaptation plans. The event further highlighted the importance of fostering and maintaining inter-sectoral collaborations.
However, bridging the science and policy divide in the water sector must go beyond communication. It requires negotiations and trade-offs to build consensus among parties that may have different interests and goals which may at times require conflict resolution. Nevertheless, the right entry point for bridging the gap must be discovered, so a generous and robust framework for collaboration can be generated, to offer a blueprint to the water sector holders in the region. The Symposium highlighted and reiterated the vital importance of involving youth and women in the water sector. Youth being critical because they are change agents and entrepreneurs.
Dr. Kevon Rhiney, Chair of the GWP-C Technical Committee shared key next steps with participants following the Symposium, which are:
- To develop a communiqué that outlines the main messages gathered from the Symposium and outline some recommended actions.
- Releasing one (1) position Paper based on an emerging topic from this Symposium.
- The GWP-C Technical Committee will produce three (3) Position Papers this year for the public.
- To use the insights from the Symposium to engage Partners across the region.
The Symposium was met with an overwhelming positive response from the over 150 participants that attended each day. The word cloud image below provides a snapshot of how participants described the Symposium at its closing.