08 Jun 2020 Blogpost Oceans & seas

Toilets of the Caribbean: small-scale solutions for better water and sanitation in the Caribbean

The Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (GEF CReW+) project will focus on further improving integrated water and wastewater management in the Wider Caribbean.

The Caribbean is synonymous with pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters. Keeping the region’s wildlife and natural resources as pristine as healthy as possible requires extraordinary work, given the increasing human presence. Safeguarding the Caribbean’s natural resources through better sanitation services has been the core mission of the GEF CReW, and it is no coincidence that this Blog has been launched one of the most important days for the planet, such as #WorldOceansDay, since the continuous work of the project always support the protection of our oceans.

Time flies! It has been more than nine years since our CReW set sail. Almost a decade later, our journey continues with a new focus on innovative approaches for sustainable water and wastewater management. We want the Caribbean to be known not only for its infamous pirates, but for its toilets. Yes, it’s toilets. We all know but now that there is no way to keep all of our water bodies without a proper sanitation system to treat the wastewater before reintroducing it to the environment.

It is hard to keep the Caribbean clean and pristine when realities like the ones we had when our journey began:

  • 85% of wastewater discharged into the Caribbean Sea is not adequately treated?
  • 51.5% of households lack sewer connections?
  • Only 17% of household wastewater is collected and treated safely?

Nine years ago, we started the work at GEF CReW with several pilots, described below. We follow up on our journey, building on the rich body of experiences and lessons learned in the past years. We have more countries, more regional partners and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH as one of the main Executing Agencies. Each of the 18 countries who endorsed the project: Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago will benefit from additional improvements in national policies, laws, and technical capacity but most importantly from practical solutions to the problems of improper wastewater management and poor sanitation at the local community level.

The new GEF CReW+ project will implement small scale solutions for the improved management of water and wastewater that can be upscaled and replicated.  We plan to significantly reduce the negative impact of untreated wastewater on the environment and people of the Wider Caribbean Region. An integrated water and wastewater approach will be taken with solutions also being implemented in selected watersheds and freshwater basins to ensure greater water security for vulnerable rural communities. Construction and rehabilitation measures will be complemented by (i) institutional, regulatory, legislative and regulatory reforms; (ii) sustainable and tailor-made financing options; and (iii) knowledge management and promotion to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and in particular Goal 6 on Water and Sanitation.


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Keeping up with the work

In 1983, when the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment in the Wider Caribbean Region (the Cartagena Convention) was adopted by 28 countries. This convention and its technical agreement on pollution – the Protocol on the control of Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities – LBS Protocol, commit those countries to reduce pollution from improper wastewater management and inadequate sanitation. 

Within the framework of the Cartagena Convention and LBS Protocol, in 2008, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) with support of the Cartagena Convention Secretariat located in Kingston, Jamaica, facilitated a Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant to improve ​​wastewater management while exploring access to innovative financing as the biggest impediment for sustainability in the sector.  After a few years of negotiations and preparation, this pioneering initiative saw the light of day in July 2011.  The journey had begun, and the GEF CReW project was born!  

The GEF CReW project started to tackle these challenges through training, increased awareness, investments in treatment infrastructure, and innovative financial mechanisms. But our journey is far from over - untreated wastewater continues to be one of the main threats to public health, to the region's rich biodiversity, and its long-term development. And the root causes remain the same: rapid expansion of urban populations, poor planning of infrastructure development and, lack of proper operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment facilities.  Underlying these barriers is the largest one - the lack of sustainable financing to develop and maintain our wastewater treatment systems – the proverbial elephant in the room.

What did we achieve from GEF CReW?  Let's dig deeper. Its main objective was to pilot innovative and sustainable financing mechanisms in the wastewater sector and it was implemented in 13 countries in the region: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

In Jamaica, a Credit Enhancement Facility was established, and in Belize, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago three Revolving Funds were developed. The project supported other countries and communities to strengthen their institutional, legislative and regulatory frameworks and new countries committed politically to improve wastewater management by ratifying the LBS Pollution Protocol.  Guided by a powerful communication strategy and using several targeted knowledge products, the project helped demystify wastewater-- indeed it is not just the “Cinderella of the Water Sector” as stated by the then , Environment Minister of Jamaica, Honorable Robert Pickersgill, during the Inception Workshop of CReW -- it is a resource – a resource we plan to fully exploit during our new journey. The GEF CReW concluded in June 2017, after 6 years of remarkable advancement in the sector.   You can find all the information on our website: www.gefcrew.org

A lot has happened since 2017. Right now we are in the final preparations to set sail on continue our adventure.  Hang in there, stay tuned, and even better, come join us.  For those who have been with us from the beginning of our journey, thanks for your support and interest and rest assured the best is yet to come. Stay tuned for the upcoming Toilets of the Caribbean!

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