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Saint Kitts and Nevis

Year: 2015 Revision date: -- Revision type: --

Regional report: Southern America, Central America and the Caribbean

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(Click the map to obtain a detailed map)

Geography, climate and population


The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis comprises two relatively small islands, located about 100 km west of Antigua and Barbuda. The total area of the country is 260 km2, of which Saint Kitts accounts for 170 km2 and Nevis accounts for 90 km2. The twin island Federation is located between latitudes 17º10’N and 17º25’N and longitudes 62ºW and 63ºW, and is part of the Leeward Island group of the Eastern Caribbean.

Saint Kitts and Nevis is politically divided into 14 parishes. The capital is Basseterre.

In 2012, the total physical cultivated area was estimated at 5 100 ha, of which 98 percent (5 000 ha) consisted of temporary crops and 2 percent (100 ha) of permanent crops. Permanent meadows and pasture cover 900 ha, which brings to total agricultural area to 6 000 ha (Table 1).

Land above the 305 m above sea level is designated as the forest reserve where no development is permitted. The large southeastern peninsula is primarily covered with scrub vegetation, while the remaining low elevation landscape is made up of rock areas, salt ponds and beaches. Mid-level elevations are characterized by mixed uses, including grazing, farming of food and tree crop and abandoned sugarcane farms.

The physical landscape of Saint Kitts is characterized by three volcanic centres: (i) Northwest Range, dominated by Mount Liamuiga (1 156 m); (ii) Middle Range, consisting of a number of irregular related peaks dominated by Verchild’s Mountain (975 m); (iii) Southeast Range, which also consists of a number of irregular related peaks, Olivees Mountain being the highest (900 m).


Both islands have a tropical climate influenced mainly by the northeast trade winds of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone. The average annual rainfall of the country is 1 427 mm. The average rainfall in Saint Kitts is 1 625 mm, varying from about 890-1 000 mm along the coast to about 2 500-3 800 mm in the central mountain ranges. Average rainfall in Nevis is a bit lower. Generally, rainfall is unevenly distributed between years and between months, but there is a reliable wet period from September to November and a dry period from January to April.

Seasonal and diurnal variations in temperature are small. Mean temperature in summer months is around 26-27ºC, dropping by only a few degrees to 24-25ºC in the cooler months of December to February.


In 2013, the total population was about 54 000 inhabitants, of which around 69 percent was rural (Table 1). About 78 percent of the population lives on the island of Saint Kitts and 22 percent on the island of Nevis. The majority lives near the coastline, as the interior tends to be extremely rugged and steep. About 40 percent of the population of Saint Kitts lives in or around the capital Basseterre, located on the coast. The population density is 208 inhabitants/km2. The average annual population growth rate in the 2003-2013 period has been estimated at 0.7 percent.

In 2012, 98 percent of the total population had access to improved water sources. In 2007, 87 percent of the total population had access to improved sanitation.

Economy, agriculture and food security

In 2013, the gross domestic product (GDP) was US$ 743 million. In 2012, agriculture accounted for 2 percent of GDP, while in 1992 it accounted for 7 percent. In 2013, total population economically active in agriculture is estimated at 5 000 inhabitants (21 percent of economically active population), of which 20 percent is female and 80 percent is male.

Sugarcane was the main export crop up until 2005 when the sugar industry was closed down, the moment its production accounted for only 5 percent of the GDP (a drop of 68 percent in 24 years). Since then, the travel and tourism sector has become the main economic activity. In 2011, tourism contributed directly 8 percent to GDP and indirectly 28 percent, and similar percentages of direct and indirect employment respectively. The islands still carry on small-scale production of crops, including rice, yams, bananas and cotton.

Agriculture on both islands is mainly rainfed. Approximately 80 percent of the land on Saint Kitts is owned by the government; while on Nevis 70 percent of the land is under private ownership. In Nevis the Ministry on Agriculture reports that 162 ha are under fruit trees and there are 202 ha of pasture land for livestock and temporary crop including vegetables. Only two government farms exist on Nevis with a total of 500 ha. Most agricultural production takes place at lower elevation, while land at mid-level elevation is dominated by housing and other infrastructural developments. In Nevis, vegetables and root crops are cultivated on a subsistence basis and some cotton is grown for export. The livestock sector includes cattle, small ruminants and pigs.

Water resources

Surface water and groundwater resources

Annual average surface water resources are estimated at 3.6 million m3 and groundwater resources at 20 million m3. Considering no overlap between surface water and groundwater resources, the total renewable water resources are estimated at 23.6 million m3 (Table 2).

Most of the rivers of the country no longer have year-round flows. Small rivers flow from the mountain ranges in the wet season, drying up partially or completely in the dry season. Two important seasonal rivers are the Wingfield and Cayon rivers on Saint Kitts, which during the wet seasons flow to the Caribbean Sea.

The main groundwater supply is from a coastal aquifer, with seven groundwater basins. The estimated safe yield is approximately 38 million litres or 38 000 m3 per day. This figure, however, is now under discussion since the groundwater aquifers are being impacted on by sea level rise and will eventually be negatively impacted by saline intrusion due to climate change.

The Great Salt Pond on Saint Kitts is the largest lake in the country. Some small dams and structures have been made, with a total capacity of about 32 000 m3.

Water use

Freshwater in Saint Kitts is available in three forms: springs, groundwater and desalination plants. There are seven springs, with an average total flow of approximately 9 000 m3 per day, that are used supply five mainly independent water distribution systems. The rest of the freshwater supply is provided by a network of 30 wells which have a combined capacity of approximately 23 000 m3 per day. Freshwater in Nevis is available from mountain springs, supplemented (seasonally) by water from several earthen dams.

According to the Water Services Department (WSD), in 2012 the total annual surface water produced was 4.26 million m3 in Saint Kitts and 0.28 million m3 in Nevis. Groundwater produced was 5.03 million m3 in Saint Kitts and 2.48 million m3 in Nevis. This gives a total of 12.05 million m3, all referring to municipal water withdrawal, of which 37 percent surface water and 63 percent groundwater. The small irrigation area is estimated to withdraw about 0.2 million m3 per year. While some of the water is coming from the public water supply, and therefore should be considered as municipal water withdrawal, most is considered to be being self-abstracted from the constructed tanks and therefore the amount has been put under agricultural water withdrawal. Desalinated water produced was estimated at 3.3 million m3 in 2005 (UNEP/CEHI, 2006) (Table 3, Figure 1 and Figure 2).

There are five water distribution systems on Saint Kitts, which generally operate independently of each other. Some ability to divert water between them under various conditions, such as drought or emergency and for maintenance and repairs to the system, exists. The surface water systems include an intake structure, a distribution reservoir, and a distribution network. The five systems are:

  1. Wingfield–St. Paul’s (surface water and groundwater): serves the leeward towns and villages from Old Road to Dieppe Bay.
  2. Basseterre (surface water and groundwater): serves the area west of Old Road, Basseterre and the surrounding areas including Frigate Bay, Stapleton and Conaree.
  3. Lodge (groundwater): serves the Lodge area.
  4. Cayon (surface water and groundwater): serves Cayon, Brighton, Keys, Stapleton and Monkey Hill areas.
  5. Phillips (surface water and groundwater): serves windward villages from Molineux to Dieppe Bay.

The surface water provided to the capital Basseterre is supplied by the La Guerite water treatment plant which treats about 4 500 m3 per day.

Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

The irrigation potential is estimated at 200 ha considering on water resources and topography, of which 180 ha for Saint Kitts and 20 ha for Nevis (Table 4).

There has been limited experience of irrigation within the sugar industry. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the sugar manufacturing company utilized a rain gun, fed from a shallow well on one estate. In the case of vegetable production, a 3 ha vegetable production demonstration plot utilizing sprinkler irrigation was established on the same estate. The Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) also undertook some experimental work. In 1997, the CARDI initiative utilized drip irrigation for a total of seven farmers on the islands.

Generally, in Saint Kitts access to irrigation water is very limited, because vegetable production is carried out on the lower hillslopes. In 1997, some 8 ha were irrigated mainly on government demonstration plots and private farms using the municipal water supply. Also, the construction of tanks (average capacity 341 m3) had been encouraged on some farms to extend the production season as far as possible. Since 1997, the construction of three intakes structures on some of the main rivers (permanent springs) has increase the volume of water available for farming in general. In Nevis, approximately 10 ha were irrigated in 1997, half from surface water and half from groundwater (Figure 3). Schemes were small and were operated by a total of eight households; 4.5 ha were privately-owned schemes, 2 ha were smallholder/government enterprises, and the remaining 3.5 ha were government schemes.

In 2012, approximately 25 ha are irrigated in the country, which accounts for 0.5 percent of the cultivated land. Most irrigated crops are vegetables.

Women and irrigation

The Country Strategy Paper (2013-2015) for St. Kitts and Nevis projects increased output in agriculture on the basis of the provision of irrigation, mechanization of services and increase in facilities for product handling and storage. From a gender perspective the strategy has to go hand in hand with addressing other issues such as increasing land ownership for women, opening opportunities for the increased presence of women in protected agriculture; and addressing work-life balancing issues for women. The paper recommends, amongst others, to produce a road map to develop the agro-processing sector and address constraints such as the lack of water for irrigation and the slowness in technological adaptation, for example in greenhouse agriculture. This is now being addressed with plans to allocate green houses to more women, especially single women (CDB, 2014).

Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


Water resources management and development fall under the purview of the Water Services Department (WSD). There is no relevant legislation in place for the development of water for the agricultural sector. The Departments of Agriculture are responsible for coordinating efforts to develop the irrigation and drainage sector.

Water management

Water resources are vulnerable to sea level rise and temperature increase, leading to higher evaporation rates. Primarily the groundwater resources need to be maintained and protected. Adaptation measures would include: rational use of available water enforced by the national water authority; controlled rate of pumping from aquifers; conservation of protective forests that allows a high rate of infiltration of rainfall to the aquifers; protection of contamination of groundwater from pollution sources (UNDP, 2012).

An expanding tourism/hotel sector has the largest need for water supply. The WSD does not cater for irrigated agriculture, but has however accommodated the requests of some livestock owners. Because of the relatively high consumption and water scarcity situation, requests from crop farmers are rarely given consideration.

The Department of Agriculture, Saint Kitts, considers the lack of water for supplementary irrigation in the dry season as the major constraint to achieving one of its primary goals: year-round production of selected vegetables.

Constraints to water and irrigation development include:

  • high cost of exploratory drilling
  • high cost of irrigation development per unit area
  • difference in altitude between farms and the groundwater aquifers near sea level
  • small catchment areas, which limit the maximum size of reservoirs
  • inaccessibility of mountain springs


Operational sustainability is contingent on the pricing of water services to recover full costs and investing the capital raised in operation and maintenance to provide improved service standards. This needs to be supported by the recognition that while water is a social good, it also has economic value and hence there needs to be greater effort at cost recovery. To achieve this there needs to be a better level of information, knowledge and understanding of water resources, the nature and extent of the demands on water resources, contributing conditions and the macro-economic and development context within which they are situated. Securing financing and investment is affected by government’s high level of indebtedness and resultant difficulties in allocating resources in the national budget.

Policies and legislation

The Government of Saint Kitts and Nevis considers access to drinking water a basic human right and has therefore, to the extent that resources allow, implemented the following policies (GoSKN, 2004):

  • Ensure that water-bearing aquifers are protected from pollution and that abstraction rates do not exceed natural rates of replenishment
  • Ensure, through locational planning and control, that accessibility to safe piped water is maximized to all settlements year round
  • Ensure protection of well-fields through effective development control and management

Environment and health

Recent studies conducted in the Basseterre Valley Watershed have identified the following issues:

  • A trend of declining static water levels in the Basseterre well field and early signs of salt water intrusion
  • The potential for degradation of groundwater quality from domestic soak-away pits, agricultural pollution and industrial developments in the watershed
  • Threats to the watershed recharge areas from improper land usage and insufficient development planning, leading to watershed degradation and deforestation
  • Threats to the existing freshwater aquifer from climate change induced sea-level rise

The groundwater aquifers in the country are being impacted on by sea level rise and will eventually be negatively impacted by saline intrusion due to climate change.

Pressure for agricultural land has caused small farmers to clear forested plots along slopes for farming, causing deforestation, soil erosion and water pollution (UNDP, 2012).

Prospects for agricultural water management

Maintaining the water system infrastructure to deliver clean and safe drinking water to customers is a great challenge for all public water system (PWS) operators. Much of the estimated 160 km of pipelines in Saint Kitts has been in service for decades and can be a significant source of water loss. In addition to physical loss of water from the distribution system, water can be “lost” through unauthorized consumption or theft, administrative errors, data handling errors, and metering inaccuracies or failure. A water loss control or reduction programme can help to locate and reduce these water losses and thus maintain or increase revenue for the PWS. Such programmes can also protect public health through reduction in potential entry points of disease-causing pathogens.

Demand for water will augment in the near future due to population increase and tourism demand, in particular the emerging golf sector. Frequent water demand analyses will need to be undertaken to determine the capacity of the Water Services Department to respond to the increased demand. The construction of desalination plants could help to cope with increasing demands (Ministry of Sustainable Development, 2007).

Main sources of information

CDB. 2014. Country Gender Assessment. St Kitts and Nevis (VOL 1). Caribbean Development Bank

Daniel, A. and Smith, T.P. et al. 2013. St. Kitts: Water sector assessment, auditing and conservation. Report on assessment of the St. Kitts water sector. USAID-funded OECS RRACC project.

Encyclopedia of the Nations. 2015. Saint Kitts and Nevis.

GEF/UNDP and Ministry of Sustainable Development. 2012. Conserving biodiversity and reducing habitat degradation in protected areas and their buffer zones. St. Kitts and Nevis.

GoSKN. 2004. Policies related to drinking water. Governemnt of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

IICA. 1992. Agricultural sector assessment study. St Kitts and Nevis. Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

Ministry of Sustainable Development. 2007. National action programme for combating desertification and land degradation

UNDP. 2012. Saint Kitts and Nevis. United Nations Development Programme.

UNDP. UNDP climate change country profiles: St Kitts and Nevis.

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