New York, 27th September 2019–Speaking on behalf of St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister, Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris, Hon. Ian Patches Liburd, Minister of Public Infrastructure with responsibility for Water Services, joined a number of Heads of small island states at a special session of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City this week, to stress the need for a more active Caribbean-wide high level scientific approach to addressing challenges facing the region in sustainable water capacity. He called on UNESCO to intervene with scientific expertise via its Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP).
Addressing a luncheon session during the UNGA on the role of fresh water in the sustainability and resilience of SIDS, Minister Liburd led an assertive declaration to all UN members on the growing climate change-driven vulnerability factor of SIDS, directly affected by freshwater capacity – both ground and surface water – resources, due to rising sea levels, climate variability and change. “Given that SIDS are encircled by marine water, saltwater intrusion into groundwater resources has become a problem of some magnitude”.
Referring to the recent adverse effects of climate change in the Caribbean region, Minister Liburd stated: “We were sharply reminded recently of the vulnerability of water supplies in small islands when the Dorian Hurricane ripped through the Bahamas, leaving destruction in its wake. It also inflicted another damaging feature: contamination of the groundwater supply. But even in periods of stable weather conditions, climate-change has accentuated extended periods of drought in our islands”.
A starting point noted the Minister is the “broad scientific consensus that climate change effects are felt by humans through its impacts on water resources, including groundwater, and water-related disasters such as flooding and droughts. Exacerbating this trend are the human responses to these impacts arising from increasing groundwater abstraction due to extended and more frequent droughts”.
Whilst drought conditions have caused many of our residents to develop a sharp awareness of our water resources, and although governments in the region were allocating financial resources in system improvements, establishment of new wells, re-commissioning new ones, and the installation of pipelines to increase the supply of water to the communities, “this is clearly not enough. Should we not explore reverse osmosis or desalination as possible options?”
He went in to say that “the critical factor affecting the amount and quality of water in the islands are an increase in temperature leading to higher evaporation and evapotranspiration rates, and the progressive rise in sea level, triggering salt water intrusion into aquifers”.
The need had arisen, noted the minister, “to address these water challenges by identifying priorities for action at the highest political level, building on existing partnerships. We increasingly look to our traditional expert partner, UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP), to provide guidance.”
In this endeavour, the minister noted the recognition of SIDS’ vulnerabilities and the need to support their sustainable development ambitions, enshrined in the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation of the Programmed of Action for the Sustainable Development of SIDS – Mauritius Strategy (2005, and the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action – Samoa Pathway (2014).
Minister Liburd and the Prime Minister were accompanied to this event by Dr. David P. Doyle, Ambassador of Dt. Kitts and Nevis to UNESCO, Based in Paris. Noted Ambassador Doyle: “Both the Mauritius Strategy and the Samoa SIDS Platform highlighted the priority concerns of addressing pollution of water resources and lack of access to safe water in quantities sufficient for their populations.”
Commending UNESCO-IHP for its focus on the Caribbean SIDS, Minister Liburd welcomed the heightened importance provided by UNESCO in deploying its unique multi-disciplinary expertise – in science, culture, climate change, education, biodiversity resource preservation, knowledge management and information for decision-making – in addressing the multiplicity of challenges facing SIDS.
“Arising from the Samoa Pathway, I commend UNESCO’s Action Plan for SIDS in which, through the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), it commits to providing Member States – like St. Kitts & Nevis – with initiatives and tools to promote sound governance and management of water resources in SIDS.”
Concluding, the Hon. Minister Liburd urged UNESCO-IHP, as the only intergovernmental programme of the United Nations (UN) system devoted to water policy, to deploy its research, water resources management, and education and capacity-building “to accompany us in the Caribbean in integrating watershed and aquifer management, which incorporates the social dimension of water resources, and promotes and develops international research in hydrological and freshwater sciences.”
The event was attended by high-level UNESCO diplomats, notably, the Assistant Director-General, H.E. Dr. Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, with specific responsibility for science and water policy.