*By Daniela Araya, Pedro Moreo and Marle Reyes- Project Coordination Group of the GEF CReW+ Project.
Because freshwater is scarce, all levels of society must practice water conservation, particularly in drought-stricken areas. However, water reuse – a strategy that could preserve our limited resources- is still underused and underfunded in many countries.
Low and middle-income countries only treat between 28 and 38 percent of their wastewater, and their developed counterparts only reach 70 percent. In the Caribbean, the rates are even worse: up to 90 percent of wastewater is discharged into the environment without proper treatment and this untreated effluent contributed to the loss of 80 percent of coral reefs in the last 20 years. The need to start reuse practices is more urgent than ever.
Water reuse is gaining momentum, but lags in legislation and public policies delay on-the-ground solutions. Across socio-economic levels, people reject the idea of reusing treated wastewater, due to lack of awareness and preconceived notions as many believe this water is hazardous and/or dirty. Governments do not prioritize wastewater treatment and utilities cannot include this fee in their tariffs. As a result, sustainable, long-term funding mechanisms for wastewater treatment are few and far between. Not only are we polluting the environment, we are also depleting freshwater resources as we persist in our “take-make-waste” consumption model.
It’s time to flip the scipt. Citizens and decision-makers alike must understand that treated wastewater is safe for various agricultural and industrial processes. It can also help protect our oceans, coastal areas, and marine ecosystems from environmental degradation. Based on these premises, the GEF CReW+ project supports countries meet their water reuse goals through different activities across Latin America and the Caribbean:
- Barbados is working on a communications strategy focused on behavioral change to shift mindsets about treated water and implement several public policies that support water reuse.
- Colombia developed an analysis to include water reuse in water tariffs with input from stakeholders, which will likely lead to a holistic tariff pilot to support provinces facing water crises.
- Trinidad and Tobago developed a standard in wastewater reuse for agricultural and other purposes. The islands also implemented capacity building activities with farmers to demonstrate that adequately treated wastewater is safe for crops.
At a regional level, the GEF CreW+ Academy provides a space for experts from academia, think tanks, and civil society to promote knowledge and raise awareness on wastewater management and reuse. Wastewater reuse reduces our dependence on limited freshwater resources. It creates a circular system that reduces contamination of our marine ecosystems and allows our societies to thrive. The GEF CReW+ project provides the tools and knowledge to expand this practice throughout the region.
More information on GEF CReW+:
The GEF CReW+ is a partnership project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) that is being co-implemented by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 18 countries of the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR): 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, Surinam, and Trinidad and Tobago. This project builds on its previous successful phase “The Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (CReW)” project (2011-2017). GEF CReW+ is executed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the Organisation of the American States (OAS) and the Secretariat of the Cartagena Convention (CAR/RCU) on behalf of the IDB and UNEP respectively.
The Global Environment Facility has provided more than $22 billion in grants and blended finance and mobilized an additional $120 billion in co-financing for more than 5,200 projects and programs. The GEF is the largest multilateral trust fund focused on enabling developing countries to invest in nature and supports the implementation of major international environmental conventions including on biodiversity, climate change, chemicals, and desertification. It brings together 184 member governments in addition to civil society, international organizations, and private sector partners.