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Serious problems of water pollution and a constant increase in solid wastes exist in the greater Caribbean region. Water pollution, including contamination of the sea, is usually caused by industrial discharges, the emission of untreated used household water, runoff (urban and rural), oil spills, sedimentation, the presence of excessive nutrients, accumulation of toxic substances and salt intrusion into coastal aquifers. The availability of good quality water is important not only for direct consumption by the public and as a medium for various aquatic ecosystems, which support ecologically important species of plants and animals, but also as an indispensable resource for the development of industrial, agricultural, livestock, business and tourism and recreational activities.
Only 25% of the population in the Caribbean region has access to sewage services, while 52% have latrines, a situation that varies by country and is most critical in Haiti, St. Kitts, Montserrat and Grenada. The lack of sewage service and the inappropriate disposal of used water present a great risk to public health. At the same time, the number of people who lack access to potable water reaches into the millions in the region, which creates an additional health risk for the public.
The ocean faces serious pollution risks, not only in the area of the Caribbean islands but also in the continental countries that border the basin. This is due to commercial and tourism shipping, which have been responsible for spills of hydrocarbons and other petroleum products.
At the same time, the problem of the increased generation of solid wastes and their inappropriate disposal is especially alarming. A substantial portion of solid wastes are burned openly, while others are dumped in inappropriate sites, such as wetlands, bodies of water and ravines. The disposal of wastes in these ways puts the public health at risk through pollution of bodies of water by leaching and by the proliferation of animals and insects that can transmit illnesses and cause epidemics.
The governments of the region should develop integrated strategies to address the problems of water pollution and solid wastes. These strategies will have to include, as one of their priorities, the contribution to the problem by shipping, including cruise ships. It is estimated that a cruise ship with three thousand passengers generates between 400 and 1,200 cubic meters of liquid waste per day, including the water from washing machines and dishwashers and the use of showers and sinks. It also produces 70 liters of hazardous wastes, such as the chemicals used to develop photographs, paints, solvents, printer cartridges, batteries and cleaning fluids.
Author: Carlos Maysonet
Published: December 26, 2011.