Climate Change, Water, and Sanitation in the Caribbean

environmental conference panel

On Monday, June 23rd, Taylor Hall opened its doors to a unique three-fold conference. For five consecutive days, the critical environmental issues of the Caribbean, including climate change, water and sanitation, were addressed.  The 4th Biennial Caribbean Environmental Forum (CEF) and Exhibition, 14th Annual Wider Caribbean Waste Management Conference and the First Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum provided essential information and solutions to a regional and international audience which included a cross-section of influential representatives from the government sector.

Distinguished guest speakers representing the Austrian and German governments shared their expertise with regard to the Conference’s theme: Climate Change, Water and Sanitation: A Shared Responsibility.  His Excellency Ambassador Dr. Ernest Martens of Germany, pointed out that Germany is a key player in the movement towards sustainable development and alternative energy sources such as wind, hydro-electric power and bio-energy. In fact, 10% of Germany’s electricity and 5% of their energy are from these alternative sources.

Her Excellency Ambassador Magister Marianne Feldmann, Austrian Embassy for Venezuela and the Caribbean, Venezuela, disclosed that Austria also is one of the world’s leaders in hydroelectric power. Ninety percent of their electricity comes from hydroelectric power and as such, they have much to offer the region (Caribbean) both in terms of technical and financial support as the region actively seeks to harness their natural resources for renewable energy.

In delivering the keynote address, Dr. the Rt. Honorable Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, highlighting collective responsibility that Grenadians and indeed all peoples of the region must share, said, “We cannot be mere passengers to solutions.” He notes that it is important to take stock of what is happening with our supply of food, water and energy; that harnessing the sun’s energy needs to be more actively pursued as a viable option and as an alternative source of energy; and that waste as a potential resource needs to be more closely examined. This point was further emphasized by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) representative, who noted that the most serious cause of marine pollution is still that of untreated waste water. The sad reality is 85% of waste water continues to enter our oceans untreated.

Senator Ann David Antoine, an honorary member of the Caribbean Environmental Forum (CEF) also noted that as this year is the International Year of Sanitation, it is an apt time for such focus.  She highlighted the fact that we cannot ignore the basic needs of sanitation and a good, clean water supply, since they speak to the very dignity of people.  “ The Grenadian public must be sensitized to the challenges we face and also to workable solutions.”

Distinguished members of the audience included: Sen. Elizabeth Thompson of Barbados, Ambassador Angus Friday and representatives from Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile, the Caribbean, Canada, the United States, Austria and Germany — a truly international cross section. Chair of the Grenada National Solid Waste Management Authority Ms. Aine Brathwaite, who worked assiduously to ensure that Grenada hosted the conference, thanked all for the level of interest that the conference drew. She emphasized that in the matter of waste management, “imperative need for action has never been more urgent” and the “need to sensitize our people of what is at stake.” She points to public awareness, education and the implementation of laws as positive steps in the right direction.

Dr. Denis Paul, Vice Provost for Institutional Advancement on behalf of Chancellor Charles Modica, and Dr. Allen Pensick, Provost; welcomed the conference participants, stating that “SGU is proud to be a collaborator.” He encouraged them to take some time off from their packed schedule to enjoy the ambience of the campus and wished all a successful conference. Topics addressed at the conference included: Integrated Water Resources Management in a Changing Climate, New Challenges and Approaches to Human Health and Sanitation, Waste Management, including Solid, Liquid and Hazardous wastes, Bio-medical and Technological Waste, and Energy Management including Renewable Energy. It was clear that at the end of the conference there was much food for thought and the challenge now lies in maximizing the information gleaned to the benefit of the countries of the respective participants.

It seemed appropriate that this year’s CEF-4 Conference be the inaugural conference held at St. George’s Taylor Hall.   The Late Vice Chancellor Emeritus, Keith Breden Taylor, DM, FRCP (1924-2006), for whom the facility is named, worked tirelessly to implement his vision that St. George’s University should grow into an international university.  He achieved that by creating a Panel on Research and Scholarly Activity in 1992; founding a research institute in the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF) in 1994 which allowed the development of a graduate studies program; and by instituting the School of Arts and Sciences in 1996 which broadened the academic opportunities for students in the region. The international scope of the Environmental Conference is consistent with his hope and plan for SGU.

In addition to providing the venue, as a major co-sponsor St. George’s University also provided logistical support, accommodations, transportation and technical support.

Published on 7/3/08