Experts warned Caribbean nations that climate change could contaminate and further deplete their already strained supplies of drinking water.
At a conference in St. Lucia this week, scientists and officials pointed to rising sea levels and changing climate patterns as the cause of this looming ecological disaster.
"Inaction is not an option," said Lystra Fletcher-Paul, Caribbean land and water officer for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. "The water resources will not be available."
While this depletion would not be seen until the coming decades, signs of the projected impact of climate change have emerged in recent months.
An unusually dry spell that has been spreading since last year has hit many parts of the region, including Grenada and Anguilla. Recent intense rains experienced in other areas have also led to an increase of water treatment cost at desalination plants, so many of the debt-stricken islands subsequently shut off their underground water systems.
Barbados is most at risk, followed closely by Cuba and the Dominican Republic, according to a 2012 study by British risk analysis firm Maplecroft. The study failed to assess a number of Eastern Caribbean countries considered to be among the driest in the region.
"There are a number of indications that the total amount of rainfall in much of the Caribbean would be decreasing by the end of the century," said Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist with the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology & Hydrology.
Van Meerbeeck said water supplies will continue to decrease if individuals as well as agriculture and tourism, the region's key industries, do not monitor use.
"Climate is maybe not the biggest factor, but it's a drop in an already full bucket of water," he said. "It will have quite dramatic consequences if we keep using water the way we do right now."
Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados have ordered rationing this year, with Barbados reducing pressure and occasionally cutting off supply to some areas. The island also began to recycle water, with officials collecting treated wastewater to operate airport toilets.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
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