Climate Change and Water Management

Climate Change in the Caribbean: The Water Management Implications”, by Adrian Cashman, PhD, Leonard Nurse, PhD, and Charlery John, PhD, all of the University of the West Indies, was one of the most frequently read articles in the Journal of Environment and Development in 2010. Adrian Cashman has provided a personal perspective on the article:

My motivation for wanting to write the paper was one of curiosity as well as a desire to bring a slightly different perspective to the question of water resources management in the Caribbean.  It has been said that water is the primary medium through which climate changes will impact on human populations, society and ecosystems, due to predicted changes in its quality and quantity.  This is an easy thing to say but trying to understand what this might mean is not easy which was one of the things I wanted to explore in writing the paper “Climate Change in the Caribbean: The Water Management Implications”.  Although there is an increasing amount of modelling of climate change with outputs that provide projections of temperatures, precipitation patterns, etc. there has been little attention given to the possible impacts on water resources in the Caribbean and by extension on the implications for the future management of those resources.  I had the feeling that too much attention had been paid to sea level rise and salt water intrusion whilst the affects on aspects of water resources seemed to have been passed by.  This was an opportunity to explore what some of the implications might be and at the same time try to bring home to water managers and policy makers through the Caribbean the seriousness of the situation facing them.  After all, the water sector is a long term undertaking.  We don’t plan just for tomorrow but for next year and the year after that and so on.  Our planning horizons are 25 – 50 years ahead.

So if we are to respond to climate change we have to begin now, even with the uncertainties that there are in the predictions.  Yet in reading the available literature and research, very little had been published that would provide water professionals with a starting point that would enable them to cope with an increasingly uncertain climatic future.  Many of the water resources in the Caribbean are both poorly understood and in some cases stressed so climate change had to my mind the potential to make a bad situation worse.  But there seemed to be little appreciation of this and that is one reason why this paper is important.  I remember at on point discussing the content of the paper with my colleagues who had been involved in producing the regional model outputs and saying to them, only half jokingly; “You produce the science and I’ll do the speculation.”  Yet there is a serious point here, there is nothing like enough thought or research being undertaken into climate change and water resources in the Caribbean.

It is for this reason that I believe that his is an important paper.  Not because it is well written or not but because it highlights how little we know.  The period 2009 – 2011 has highlighted just how variable the climate can be; we have gone from a drought to floods, all in the space of a year and been ill prepared for both.  If this is the case under present conditions then just think how much worse they could be under climate change.  It is my hope that the paper will play a part in prompting more research.  We need to understand how climate change will affect stream flows, water quality, storage requirements, demands, waste treatment and so on.  Without research we wont be able to answer those questions.  Without research we wont be able to properly plan for the future.  But research without outreach and the ability to communicate with water professionals is also in my view self-defeating.  That the paper has attracted so much attention is welcome, but I hope that it also stimulates collaboration, funding and further research (which will of course mean more academic papers).

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