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Climate Change and Public Health in the Caribbean

Caribbean Climate features an exclusive contribution by Nalini Jagnarine, Environmental Analyst and Business Development Coordinator at Environmental Solutions Limited, a Caribbean-based Consultancy.

The topic of climate change has become more and more an issue of serious discussion and debate for many islands within the Caribbean with specific reference to Jamaica. Despite the fact that Jamaica is not a large contributor to greenhouse gases, small developing states like ourselves will feel the greatest impacts. Jamaica has already started feeling the effects with severe droughts and flooding around the island causing significant damage and losses. Coastal areas are experiencing erosion from rising seas, and saltwater is contaminating groundwater aquifers close to the coast.

Recently we have experience numerous fires around the island. Of particular importance are the recent fires of 2015; Riverton and Mavis Bank which resulted in numerous health, environmental, social and economic impacts. The March 2015 fire at the Riverton Solid Waste Disposal Site has been considered the worst in recent history which affected at least four parishes in Jamaica. Findings concluded that air quality had greatly deteriorated and posed significant public health risks to individuals. High levels of hazardous substances, including cancer-causing benzene were found in the air quality tests, reported by the Ministry of Health 2015. Another major event was the major Mavis Bank fire. This incident could cause a potential loss of $120 million from coffee production according to Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) president Senator Norman Grant. How will this affect the economic growth and progress of our society? All this fire related events have been identified to have a clear link with climate change, with the rise in temperature and increase in drought! This indicates the urgency more than ever and the need to do something now!

There has also been a huge link identified between climate change and health wellness. Chikungunya along with dengue, large scale drought and frequent bush fires were just a few of the environmental issues that Jamaica experienced in 2014. All of these issues, among others, can be directly linked to climate change. Now more than ever, climate change is creating a health crisis in many parts of the world, including Jamaica. This indicates even a greater call to action. We need to stimulate our fellow Jamaicans to do something and sensitize individuals to the impacts of climate change.

Let us move away from the traditional line of theory and workshops, conferences and seminars to a more engaging method to entice youth, business leaders, educators and the common man.

In order to spread awareness of climate change and its impacts that relate specifically to health and wellness, I am in full support of the initiative that will be hosted by Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL). ESL will host a climate walk in Kingston Jamaica. This walk will be similar to the People’s Climate March which was a global movement. Its mantra was “To change everything, we need everyone”. That march had over 2,646 events in 162 countries in September 2014. In New York City alone there was an estimated 400,000 people, 1574 participating organizations, 50,000 college students, 630,000 social media posts, 5,200 articles written, and 7 celebrity selfies. It was the largest climate march in history.

Jamaica’s Climate Walk will be the first for Jamaica and the Caribbean and is designed to promote awareness of Climate Change. It will sensitize ordinary Jamaicans to the link between climate change, health and wellness but most importantly it will encourage people to start thinking about “how it affects me”.

I strongly believe that this initiative will engage youth, private and public sector, churches, civil organizations, schools, NGO’s etc.  and it is exactly the kind of event we need.

Let us “Do something,” and open our eyes to the ramifications of our actions and impacts of climate change.

Remember ……We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change and the last that could do anything about it’ (Rising Seas Summit, 2014).

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