Dr Kiran Tota-Maharaj, Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Centre for Water, Communities and Resilience (CWCR) University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE Bristol). PICTURE GUARDIAN ARCHIVES
Non-Revenue Water—the Caribbean’s biggest resource challenge

Non-Revenue Water (NRW)—potable water that is produced and lost before it reaches the end-user or customer is one of the biggest resource challenges facing the Caribbean today. This water loss can occur due to leaks, theft, metering inaccuracies, and several other factors.

NRW is a significant problem, with estimates that as much as 70 per cent of the water produced is lost globally. This high rate of NRW has significant financial, environmental, and social impacts, including increased water rates for customers, reduced water availability, and negative impacts on water quality and sanitation.

NRW can be also defined as the total volume of water lost within a water distribution network, including all water that is produced but not billed. Leakage is a significant contributor to NRW and is one of the most significant issues that Caribbean Water and Wastewater Utilities should be aiming to address comprehensively.

Non-Revenue Water (NRW) continues to be a major problem in many regions around the developing world, specifically Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Across Caribbean SIDS specifically, NRW is a critical issue that represents a significant loss of water resources and a major hindrance to sustainable water management.

This lack of water resources is an obstacle to water security and sustainable development in the Caribbean region.

Leakages are among the primary causes of NRW and arise from a wide range of sources, including pipeline leakages, faulty couplings, poor installation, and inadequate maintenance. Leakage rates vary from place to place across Caribbean SIDS but have been reported to range from 25 per cent to 65 per cent specifically in the Caribbean region, with an average of 45 per cent. These high losses mean that the vast majority of freshwater resources produced do not reach the end users.

NRW and leakage are complex issues that require multifaceted solutions. Key solutions are ensuring effective critical infrastructure maintenance, including regular inspection and repair of pipelines and other water infrastructure.

This maintenance must involve sophisticated leak detection technologies to identify problem areas and measure leakages.

Additionally, carrying out regular communication and awareness-raising programmes to increase knowledge about the importance of water conservation and the impact of NRW and leakage can help to reduce NRW losses—eg, recent apps for notification to the major water utility on pipe leaks.

Improving water distribution systems to minimise water loss would help to achieve more sustainable and transparent use of water resources in the Caribbean.

Reduced water losses can lead to significant cost savings, improved water quality, and increased overall water security.

Some solutions implemented with success in other regions around the world is the use of smart water management techniques to reduce leakage.

These methods employ sensors and data analytics technologies to collect data on water consumption, pipe failures, and other related data, and then analyse that dataset for insights into water loss.

Furthermore, the use of water pressure management, which minimises the pressure in water lines and distribution channels, can also reduce water loss from leakage. This involves control mechanisms that stabilise the water pressure, preventing forces that cause wear and tear on the pipelines.

The issue of NRW and water leakage in the Caribbean is a complex but essential one that requires multidimensional approaches.

Achieving sustainable water management through effective maintenance, communication and awareness-raising, advanced technologies and targeted critical infrastructure upgrades are among the essential solutions to reduce NRW and leakage rates in the Caribbean.

Addressing this issue will help to ensure better water security, promote a high-quality water supply, and serve as a crucial element in sustainable development in the region.