As much as 90 per cent of the sewage discharged into the Caribbean Sea is either untreated or partially treated, a situation which the United Nations says is a major threat to the region's bread and butter — tourism.

Previously, the figures bandied about were between 80 and 85 per cent. But, at yesterday's opening of a media workshop on wastewater hosted by the Global Environment Facility-Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (GEF CReW), officials said the lower figures were representative of the wider Latin American and Caribbean region.

Either way, the incidence has earned the region a failing grade as it stands to turn tourists away from our shores.

"The Caribbean is failing in its handling of wastewater. It's receiving a failing grade from tourism. It's receiving a failing grade from fishing. It's receiving a failing grade from public health. It's receiving a failing grade in terms of climate adaptation," a five-minute video on the subject said.

The failure stems from aged — and, therefore, inefficient — treatment plants in some instances, ineffective policies, poor policing of policies where they do exist, as well as the absence of facilities and policies in other cases.

In Suriname, for example, journalists participating in the workshop say there are no national environmental policies and no sewage treatment plants in their country, which has huge swathes of rainforest, and which shares a border with Guyana on the north-eastern end of the South American continent.

For its part, Jamaica has a number of ageing sewage treatment plants, 13 of which are scheduled to be either rehabilitated or retired and re-routed to tertiary plants, such as Soapberry, under the GEF-CReW project. Among those to be retired are the plants in Hughenden, Acadia, Bay Farm Villas in Kingston, and five in Portmore, St Catherine. Those to be upgraded include Paisley Pen, Red Hills Pen, Shrewsbury, Longville Park, Ensom, and Eltham.

The major challenges to the wastewater sector across the region, which were highlighted yesterday, were a lack of financing, policy and political will.

"Around the Caribbean water and wastewater utilities are poorly managed, poorly operated... [and] the environment is still not seen as priority to those in decision-making positions," Christopher Corbin, AMEP programme officer at United Nations Environment Programme's Caribbean office in Kingston, said on the video.

He added that, as populations have grown and as development has progressed, funding for wastewater management has not kept pace, particularly from commercial banking entities which seem opposed to the idea.

But solving the issues is critically important to prosperity, said co-ordinator of the GEF-CReW project Denise Forrest, and more emphasis needs to go into reaserch on the opportunities to be provided by wastewater.

"We have to recognise that wastewater management and its effective treatment is fact a significant development requirement, particularly for the future; so if we fail to treat the issue, we will perhaps not have a future that is prosperous in terms of the health of our people, in term of the quality of life," she said.

"Untreated wastewater is invariably threatening us in various sectors — tourism, health, shoreline protection. We, as a region, as small island states, can't continue this way. We can't keep having the same conversation," she added, pointing out that regional governments realised the threats of untreated wastewater from as far back as 1976.

"It is threatening our future as a region," Forrest continued.

The GEF-CReW is a US$20 million four-year project, started in 2011, with a view to establishing the mechanisms to finance wastewater projects, foster policy discussions, regional dialogue and knowledge exchange. It involves 13 countries, four of which currently have pilot projects underway. The four are Jamaica, Belize, Guyana, and Trinidad & Tobago, which have been allocated US$3 million, US$5 million, US$3 million and US$2 million, respectively.

The media workshop is intended to raise the profile of wastewater in the region.