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 Local News - November 2000


'Trinidad & Tobago' - Facts and Figures

Map of Trinidad and Tobago

The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is an archipelagic state located at the southern end of the Caribbean island chain. The islands have a tropical wet climate of the monsoonal type. Rainfall that averages 2,200 millimetres, is seasonal with a wet season from June to November and a dry season from December to May. Temperatures range from 25 to 27 oC, humidity ranges between 50 to 100% and wind speed averages between 20 and 28 km/hr. Trinidad's landscape is characterised by steep mountains, undulating hills and plains. Tobago's landscape is however, characterised by a highland area, which runs through the island and a small coastal plain. The islands are endowed with extremely varied coastlines, a fair share of wetlands and richly diverse flora and fauna.

It is recognized that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Caribbean are very vulnerable to natural and anthropogenic interventions and climate change variability. The resource limitations of SIDS make the sustainable management of these resources extremely important. In the Caribbean, freshwater supplies are frequently limiting while coastal waters support living resources that are also limited. The increasing demands placed on these resources are likely to cause increasing conflicts over allocation and use in the foreseeable future. There is a definite need for the integration of freshwater and coastal water management to sustain and protect both freshwater supplies and coastal and marine aquatic resources.

Trinidad and Tobago, the most southerly of the Caribbean chain of island is located just off the South American main land. The island comprises one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the Caribbean with its tropical forests, fertile flood plains, swamps and abundant streams. The richness of its natural environment, unique blend of the world’s major cultures, thriving industrial base and expanding population combine to present major challenges to the sustainability of a quality environment. Due to the country’s limited land space, increasing levels of development have and continue to alter the environmental integrity of the coastal areas. These negative impacts are the results of poor land use practices in the coastal zones, and in their adjoining watersheds, as well as activities in the marine environment.

The population is estimated at 1.25 million with an annual growth rate of 1.2 percent. Trinidad's population is concentrated in urban areas along the west coastal areas and at the foothills of its northerly located mountain range. On the other hand, Tobago's population is concentrated in the southwest part of the island. Relative to the rest of the Caribbean islands the country is highly industrialised with a petroleum based economy and a small but rapidly growing tourism industry concentrated mainly in Tobago.

Like other countries, economic growth and development coupled with growth of the human population is resulting in environmental degradation of watersheds, water resources and coastal areas. For Trinidad and Tobago, a twin island state, the coastal habitats and ecosystems assume significant importance. The coastal areas support a variety of life systems and valuable natural assets and within them are located key industries and economic activities. Similar to the watersheds, these areas are subjected to threats arising from a variety of land based activities. The country experiences much of the full range of environmental problems, from widespread pollution of its waterways and coastal areas, chemical spills, illegal dumping, deforestation, excessive soil erosion, fisheries and wildlife depletion. These problems are attributed to poor land use practices and an inadequate legal and institutional framework for watershed/water resources and coastal zone management. The watersheds and coastal areas are also under threat from natural disasters (tropical storms, earthquakes, floods and droughts) as well as climate change and sea level rise.

Location

The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island nation located at the south- eastern end of the Caribbean archipelago lying roughly between 10 degrees North and 11.5 degrees North latitude and between 60 degrees West and 62 degrees West longitude. It comprises a total land area of 5,126 km2, with Trinidad having an area of 4,826 km2 and Tobago (the smaller), an area of 300 km2. In addition to the main islands, Trinidad and Tobago's Exclusive Economic Zone is estimated to be 104,000 nautical km2.

Trinidad is the most southerly of the Caribbean Islands, bounded on the north by the Caribbean Sea; on the west by the Gulf of Paria; on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the south by the Columbus Channel. Tobago lies approximately 32 km north-east of Trinidad, and is separated from Trinidad by a channel, the Tobago Sound which is nearly 12 km in width.

Physiography

Trinidad features three (3) mountain ranges, the main one in the north extending the east-west boundaries (maximum height of 900 m), the smallest one in the central (maximum height of 300 m) and the other in the southern part of the island characterized by low hills. Undulating land, plains and swamps separate the ranges. The ranges decrease in altitude from north to south. These features allow for the division of the island into five (5) physiographic regions, namely, the Northern Range, the Northern Basin, the Central Range, the Southern Basin and the Southern Range.

The dominant relief feature of Tobago is a metamorphic and volcanic mountain, the Main Ridge, which runs for about two-thirds of the length of the island in a south-west to north-east direction. Running parallel to the coastline, it attains a maximum elevation of 550 metres above mean sea level. This ridge slopes off steeply to the north- east and more gently to the south-west. The south-western end of the island is occupied by a flat coral limestone platform that extends seaward to form the off-shore coral reefs.

Climate

The islands experience a climate that is tropical, warm and humid with two (2) major seasons. From January to May is the dry season with the wet season in June to December. A short dry spell of two (2) to three (3) weeks called the 'Petit Careme' occurs in the middle of September or October.

The prevailing winds are the North-East Trades which bring the heaviest rains to the highland areas of north-east Trinidad and in Tobago which lies along a south-west to north-east axis, there is no clear cut distribution between the windward and leeward districts.

The average annual rainfall of Trinidad is 2,000 mm. The evapotranspiration rate is very high accounting for up to 60 % of the total rainfall received in some areas. In Tobago the average rainfall ranges from 3,800 mm in the Main Ridge to less than 1,250 mm in the south-western lowlands. The average annual minimum temperature varies between 22 and 25oC at night and the maximum between 29 and 31oC during the day.

Socio-Economics

A recent survey estimates the population of Trinidad and Tobago at 1,249,738 with 50.4% and 49.6% representing the male and female proportions respectively. On the island of Tobago the resident population accounts for only 4% of the total population. With a growth rate of 1.2%, the population is expected to grow to 1.78 million by the year 2025. This represents an annual increase of 15,500 persons to the population. However, this growth is not expected to stabilize within the next 30 years. The two (2) main ethnic groups comprise persons of African and East Indian descent with each group accounting for approximately 40% of the total population whilst others of mixed origin comprise the remaining 20% of the population. Trinidad's population is concentrated in urban areas in the north-west and in the city of San Fernando and the boroughs of Arima and Chaguanas. Scarborough, the capital of Tobago, is the island's major population centre.

The main water related socio-economic activities in Trinidad and Tobago are industry, agriculture, recreation and tourism. Key industrial areas include Point Lisas in west-central Trinidad and Point Fortin and La Brea in the south-west, where the energy and energy based industries are concentrated. Facilities relating to the petroleum industry are located in the southern areas of the country and offshore. Greater emphasis is placed on the tourism industry in the island of Tobago than in Trinidad, but a steady growth is being experienced on both islands. This is clearly evident by the rise in both islands of the eco-tourism industry.

Water Demand

The demands for water on the islands are classified as either consuming or non-consuming water. The former category includes domestic water, major industrial, minor industrial, irrigated agriculture and unaccounted-for-water.

The water demand for domestic customers were computed using a population growth rate of 1.2% per annum beginning with a base population of 1.3 million in 1995 and a per capita consumption of 2,000 litres/day.

Consuming Year 2000 Demand

The main non-consuming demand in the country is related to the minimum flows required to maintain healthy ecosystems in rivers and swamps. Although there is an absence of good scientific information to determine these minimum flows on a basin-by-basin basis, these have been set at a minimum of 20% of the natural river flow.

Water Supply

The public water supply system (PWS) owned and operated by the Government is managed by the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA). Water infrastructure is installed throughout both islands to satisfy the potable and industrial water demands of the large majority of the population.

The 1997 water demand for customers served by the Public Water Supply System in Trinidad was computed to be 279 MCM, while an estimated 217 MCM was supplied by the system resulting in a deficit of 62 MCM. Due to a number of initiatives, several water source development projects were implemented to improve WASA’s supply throughout the island.

The situation in Trinidad in year 2000 still recognises a deficit between water supply and demand of 44 MCM/year. Two major projects are being implemented to offset this increasing deficit for the immediate to medium term (5 years). A desalination plant to produce up to 40 MCM/year industrial quality water for the major industrial estate at Point Lisas, and exploration of groundwater sources targeting 25 MCM/year.

On the island of Tobago an additional 4 MCM/year was obtained from new groundwater sources, from a project completed in year 2000. Water in excess of the estimated deficit of 3 MCM/year projected for year 2005 has been realised for this island.

Land Use

Before its occupation by European settlers, various types of natural forest species covered Trinidad and Tobago. Approximately one hundred (100) years ago the British Colonial Administration introduced the first systematic landuse, primarily for the conservation of forest, the production of timber, and cash crops consisting of cocoa, coffee, sugar cane, bananas, coconuts and tonka bean. Although forest cover still dominates the landscape of both islands, growths in population and economic activity have resulted in large scale degradation of watersheds throughout the country especially in the mountain ranges of Trinidad and the southern portion of Tobago.

In 1972, approximately 75% of the total land area of the country was covered by some form of permanent vegetative cover (Table 2.7). This included some 58.3% under forest cover and 16.8% under tree cover. Although there has been no recent comprehensive reassessment of the landuse in the country, a number of individual catchment studies have provided significant insight into the changes in landuse over the past thirty-eight (38) years. Recent estimates by the Forestry Division estimated the 1990 forest cover to have declined to 49.9% of the total land area. A study of the Santa Cruz catchment showed that between 1969 and 1992 forest cover decreased by 7.5%, while housing development increased by 20%. Other catchment studies while not giving quantitative data, have also shown significant increases in the percentage of built up areas in a number of catchments in the country.

Coupled with the increase in watershed degradation, is an alarming increase in erosion rates. One particular study on the slopes of the Northern Range demonstrated that erosion rates under natural forest are less than 0.5 ton/ha/yr, that grasslands erode at a rate of 5-10 ton/ha/yr, that cultivated lands may erode at a rate of 1-100 ton/ha/yr depending on the crop type, soil and slope and that bare soils have high erosion rates, usually in the order of 50 ton/ha/year.

The effects of soil erosion and watershed degradation have not been fully assessed. However, the impacts on the water resource include increased sediment yields in rivers and canals, and changes in the distribution of the total basin runoff over peak flows and baseflows. Sedimentation decreases the discharge capacity of rivers and canals, consequently resulting in increased flood risk. These increases in watershed degradation have been attributed to:

  • Indiscriminate clearing and degradation of forests for housing and urban development, shifting cultivation and squatting
  • Loss of forest and protective vegetative cover by forest and bush fires
  • Quarrying operations and road construction on steep slopes; and
  • Cultivation on steep slopes, without the application of appropriate soil and water conservation measures.

Pollution

The land based water bodies in Trinidad and Tobago comprise rivers/streams, reservoirs and aquifers. These water bodies fulfil a wide range of uses including potable water supply, irrigation, recreation, religious rituals, waste disposal, small-scale transportation, ecosystem support and aesthetics. This heavy multiple use of the resource is occurring without a suitable water quality management framework, resulting in significant negative water quality impacts.

The factors and activities, which impact negatively on the water quality in Trinidad and Tobago, are many and varied. These factors are usually the result of human activity, however, natural activities such as weathering of rocks and natural disasters (floods, storms and earthquakes) also contribute to the deterioration in water quality. The major pollutants found in the nation’s water systems are solids (measured as total suspended solids), organics (measured as biological oxygen demand), oil and grease, nitrogen and phosphorous.

The most extensive water quality monitoring in the country is conducted by WASA through its routine samplings at all surface water intakes. The sampling although limited in scope gives some idea of the state of the resource at critical water supply locations. Over the years it has been shown that the surface water bodies are affected by high levels of organic material (expressed as BOD), pathogens (expressed as faecal coliform) and solids (expressed as turbidity).

There is no comprehensive assessment of the quality of the water resources of the country. Instead a number of independent studies of varying levels of reliability have been carried out. Consequently the qualitative results of these studies together with expert opinion and the results of the Caroni River Basin water quality studies has been synthesized in order to arrive at an overview of the quality of the surface water resources of Trinidad and Tobago. The overview shows a dominance of relatively low water quality in the western part of Trinidad, while the northeastern part of Trinidad and the island of Tobago have relatively high water quality levels. The activities that affect the water quality and the aquatic environment are watershed degradation, modification of the hydrological regime, discharge of chemicals, disposal of sewage and farm wastes, and the dumping of refuse and solid wastes.