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Local Manufacturers And Conservationists Share Concerns Over Water

Conserving water sources necessary for island’s economic health


May 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rico’s manufacturing industry and island conservationists have a common interest: preserving the island’s limited capability to produce fresh water, said Fred Schaffner, a biology professor at University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras.

With urban centers growing at two to three times the rate of population growth, protecting forests and other natural ground cover is vital to the health of the manufacturing industry, which accounts for 40% of the island’s gross domestic product. "If we don’t do something to protect our water supply, we’ll put our manufacturing economy in jeopardy," said Schaffner.

Meanwhile, the construction industry is growing, but possibly at the expense of the backbone of the island’s economy. Manuel Reyes, environment coordinator for the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, said he is worried that construction is being advanced to pad growth numbers at the cost of other activities "Depending on construction yields environmental costs that could affect the fundamental basis of the economy," he said.

The importance of vegetation to the water supply lies in the fact that the more vegetation an area has, the more water that area can produce and store, said Schaffner. "Every time we scrape off a green space, we lose part of our water supply," he said.

Schaffner gave the example of Singapore, an island of about 267 square miles and a population of 4.6 million that counts among the Asian Tigers because of its prodigious economic growth, which is based on manufacturing. Singapore, however, is getting out of manufacturing, largely because of the increasing cost of water, for which manufacturers have to pay $4 to $5 a cubic meter.

"A solid block of cement," as Schaffner describes the urban island, "Singapore has to pipe in water across the Johore Strait from Malaysia, even though the island experiences two monsoon seasons a year."

By contrast, Ireland, a close competitor for manufacturing jobs, has relatively low water costs of less than 65 cents a cubic meter. Not coincidentally, Ireland, about seven times the size of Puerto Rico but with around the same population, has extensive vegetative ground cover between its urban areas, said Schaffner.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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