“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” – Genesis 9:16

The Bellairs Research Institute, McGill University, Barbados Field Study (BFS) Semester programme is a holistic, international, hands-on, in-the-field experience. According to, the programme is available to high performing final year undergraduate McGill students who annually spend the September to December semester working with hosts in Barbados. Katherine Trajan, one of the 2006 BFS students, is indeed one of two current McGill University Rhodes scholars. She is a civil engineering student and will be taking up her scholarship at Oxford University in October 2007.

The overall goal of the programme is to equip future leaders with the conceptual tools and skills necessary for addressing a complexity of issues. These are associated with the formulation and implementation of organizational strategies compatible with the societal goal of sustainable use and development of our natural resources, with a focus on water. It is a win-win opportunity for Barbadian youths, in the host organisations, to rub shoulders with their Canadian visitors and benefit from the synergy of interaction.

In the 2006 semester there were nine groups of 2-4 students per group and two of these groups were hosted at Counterpart Caribbean’s Future Centre. The first group worked to construct a small Biodiesel plant for Native Sun NRG.

Biodiesel is a more sustainable and environmentally friendly fuel that is made with vegetable oil and methanol through a process known as transesterification. The fuel has superior combustion characteristics and a lower emissions rating when compared to traditional petrochemical diesel. Native Sun NRG, a local company housed at The Future Centre, has taken the initiative to produce biodiesel initially in small quantities for the local market.

With the growing demand for biodiesel and a Government push for sustainable energy resources, Native Sun decided to upgrade production by constructing a new plant, but plant design was the major inhibiting factor for Native Sun’s development. The internship provided design support to Native Sun and the plant is nearly operational awaiting funding to become available.

The second group worked on the issue of water scarcity on the island. They researched water use habits and considered how to promote the idea of rainwater harvesting as an alternative water resource.

Barbados is classified by the UN as the 15th most water-scarce nation in the world. As increased strain is placed on its ground water source, Barbados must look at adopting new water conservation techniques and tapping into alternative water sources. The purpose of this project is to look at small scale rain water harvesting units and to explore the residential use of rain water as a means of reducing overall water demand on the Island from the Barbados Water Authority (BWA). The rain water harvesting project was a two-part project.

The first part consisted of designing and building a model rain water collection system at The Future Centre in Edgehill, St. Thomas to reduce the Centre’s dependence on the potable water provided by the BWA. The collected rain water will be used in Native Sun’s bio-diesel process and in the irrigation of fruit trees and gardens at the Centre, through a drip irrigation process. The rain water collection system also provides the community with a model that promotes the idea of water conservation and sustainable living.

The second part of the project involved researching current issues regarding water on the Island of Barbados focussing on two distinct neighbourhoods in the St. Thomas parish. Surveys were made to determine the water use habits of local residents and to identify any hindrances that would prevent them from using rain water as an alternative water source. The research by the interns revealed that there are three major obstacles to increased residential rain water use: (1) the lack of awareness of water scarcity and water conservation; (2) the high cost associated with the installation of a rain water catchment system; and (3) the lack of Government incentives for rain water use.

Regulations requiring rain water harvesting systems on new homes are currently in place but are not enforced. Unreliable distribution of potable water encourages residents to store potable water rather than to collect rain water. The low cost of potable water does not encourage efficient water use habits.

Connecting the rain water collection tank to a domestic plumbing system raises questions of back-flow which may contaminate the BWA supply, but there can be safeguards against this and some serious action on enforcement needs to be taken to minimise the amount of rain water which escapes and which could be used more effectively to address the challenge of scarcity.

Representing a host institution, I had the privilege to hear some of the BFS end of project presentations last Friday night and was very impressed. Those present had the benefit of hearing a live response for Mr. Dale Miller, PRO of the BWA, on some of the issues affecting the implementation of rain water harvesting, the sweet nectar from the heavens.

The other projects with which the interns were involved are Beach Management Design, Bio-diversity of Needhams Point, Land Fill Development, Marine Litter, Offshore Petroleum, Sustainable Scuba Diving and Tilapia Fish Farming.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. –

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