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Poor policy polluted Barbados

Land pollution is the degradation of the soil due to human activity that causes toxins and contaminants to leach into the ground.  Most of the freshwater in Barbados comes from rainfall that filters through the ground into aquifers that supply the community with drinking water.

As the Mottley government looks to overhaul their development policy it is important that they look to protect and rejuvenate the land – especially land adjacent to the water aquifers (Zone 1) – from the toxins that are leaching into the groundwater.

One of the biggest causes of  land pollution is agriculture. Back in the 1960s when the Barbados GroundWater Protection Policy was created, planners thought agriculture was an ideal way to protect the soil from contamination. They didn’t know or worry about the use of highly toxic fertilizers and pesticides. With decades of fertilizer and pesticide use dangerous toxins have built up in the ground surrounding the aquifers that supply Barbados with drinking water. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified three chemicals used in pesticides that are conclusive causes of cancer. Read report here  

Perhaps the biggest worry facing the Barbados Water Authority is that cancer causing pesticides are slowly leaching into the islands drinking water. The biggest question residents should ask is:

Why restrict land use in highly sensitive water zones areas to agriculture when the science shows that farming is one of the biggest causes of land pollution?

Another big contributor to land pollution in Barbados is vacant land. A century long habit of tossing trash out the window has caused 1 to 2 feet of garbage to collect on vacant land. And while weeds and bushes may grow over it the trash below decomposes leaching toxins into the soil. The restrictive land use policy around our aquifers has caused most of the land that isn’t farmed to be left vacant.

The truth is the Barbados Groundwater Protection Policy did not protect the land but contaminated it by limiting use in zone 1 areas to agriculture.  Restricting land use also stopped pollution protection innovation and technology from developing here. Luckily other countries weren’t so foolish and green technology advanced. From natural cleaners to localized sewage treatment systems, there are many innovative ways to protect land  abutting our aquifers from pollution.

The Groundwater Protection Policy is currently under review, and we are hopeful that policy makers do not ignore the science that has identified agriculture and vacant land as contributors to land pollution.  

We encourage policy makers to look at innovative ways to protect our land, and take a “be green not militant” approach to land use. Much of the land around our aquifers needs rejuvenating and we should look to eco tourism, and organic farmers for help in the process.

Fertilizers, pesticides and garbage will continue to leak dangerous toxins into the ground water without a complete overhaul of the Groundwater Protection Policy. Banning the use of  fertilizer and pesticide on all agricultural land in zone 1 is essential but hard to police; and vacant land will continue to collect garbage unless policy makers allow other forms of land use.  

It is our suggestion that zone 1 land be opened to ecotourism initiatives that introduce and promote pollution prevention systems; and that all initiatives be required to clean up and rejuvenate the soil.

Pollution prevention systems and soil rejuvenation could easily be made part of the planning approval process for all ecotourism initiatives in zone 1 areas. It is the right, reasonable and responsible approach to tackling the growing pollution problem in Barbados.