Environmental Solutions for Sustainable Communities

In October 2011, NIHERST embarked on a project to develop more sustainable communities working with the Global Water Partnership-Caribbean and the Toco Foundation. The initial focus was on promoting the use of rainwater harvesting systems (RWHS) combined with solar energy solutions in water-scarce rural communities. To date, RWHS have been installed at eighteen (18) schools across Trinidad and two community centres.

Since the first installation of the RWHS at the Rochard Douglas Presbyterian Primary School in July 2012, rainwater harvesters were installed at 10 schools in Toco and Moruga. The lucky schools in Toco are the Cumana SDA Primary School, L’Anse Noire Moravian School, Matelot Community College, Matura High School and Toco Secondary School, and in Moruga the Fifth Company Anglican School, Fifth Company Baptist School, Cowen Hamilton Secondary School, St. Mary’s Government School and Moruga Composite Secondary School.

In 2013, three schools in Barrackpore had RWHS installed. The beneficiary schools are Inverness Presbyterian Primary School, Cunjal Government Primary School and Strange Village Pre School. Phoenix Park Gas Processors Ltd. also came on board with the project and funded the installation of RWHS at three additional schools experiencing water problems - Toco Anglican Primary School, Mayo Roman Catholic Primary School, and Fishing Pond Presbyterian School. The RWHS at these schools have been outfitted with solar powered water pumps. The way this works is that solar panels are attached to the water pumps. The power from the solar panels will supplement the schools’ electricity during normal operations and in the event of a power outage, they will power the water pumps so that the schools will have an uninterrupted supply of water.

In 2014, partnering with the Water Resources Agency and Ministry of Community Development, NIHERST constructed RWHS at the Lopinot Community Centre, the Biche Community Centre and Jubliee Presbyterian Primary School, Guiaco.

The rainwater harvesters have proved to be very beneficial to the schools which have experienced water shortages, particularly in the dry season. The additional water supply has helped to decrease the amount of down-time created by the closure of school due to the lack of water. Now the RWHS provide water to flush toilets and wash hands thus improving on school sanitation and eliminating the offensive odour of unflushed toilets. The Rochard Douglas Presbyterian Primary School has estimated that the RWHS has cut its need for truck-borne water by half.

Many schools in Trinidad and Tobago are used as emergency shelters during a disaster incident. If the schools in this project are put into service as emergency shelters, the solar systems and RWHS will ensure that these shelters have a supply of water, which is a necessity. As climate change exacerbates the intensity of natural disasters such as drought and flooding, these systems represent cost effective practical steps that small island nations like Trinidad and Tobago can take towards adaptation.

Public education programmes are a key component of this project. Public education was conducted at all schools to teach students about the importance of water conservation and to help them better understand why the rainwater harvesters were being installed at their schools. It was also done to help students appreciate having the RWHS. Over 3500 students benefited from this awareness programme.

The initiative is also contributing to skills development and entrepreneurship. In each community, a cadre of 10-25 persons was trained to install and maintain the RWHS. Trainees attended entrepreneurship workshops, facilitated by NEDCO and other facilitators to help further develop their skills and knowledge base so that they can ply their new skills within and beyond their communities. The trainees also took part in a follow-up workshop that focused on the costing of RWHS. With training in the installation and costing of the RWHS and in entrepreneurship, the trainees are now better equipped and empowered to go out into other communities to ply their skills and create viable business opportunities for themselves.

This small but exciting project has proved to be very beneficial to many schools and tradespersons. It is hoped that rainwater harvesting will become a sustainable practice that would benefit many more schools, individuals and communities throughout the country.