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INTERVIEW-Caribbean life “as we know it” at serious risk – expert

A man rides his tricycle taxi during a thunderstorm in Havana in this 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

“A lot of the damage now comes from extreme precipitation. So that translates into floods, landslides, loss of life, loss of livelihoods”

As if hurricanes were not menacing enough, small Caribbean islands risk losing their entire way of life unless they urgently strengthen defences against a raft of future disasters, according to a climate change official.

“You don’t even need to have a hurricane to get extensive damage .. a tropical storm or depression, it comes and sits over a particular island or territory and it deposits rain,” said Ulric Trotz, deputy director at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

“For us small island nations, basically everything comes to a stop. As a region, we are very exposed to climate risk .. and our projections show that this will be exacerbated,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Trotz – whose organisation coordinates the entire region’s response to climate change – said that along with the annual hurricane season, the Caribbean now faces extreme weather each year, from flooding to landslides.

Fishing and farming communities living in coastal areas and the tourism industry – vital for Caribbean economies – often bear the brunt of damage and loss of income.

Caribbean nations can now face as much rainfall as they would normally get over a period of months in the space of a few days, with drainage systems unable to cope, Trotz said.

“A lot of the damage now comes from extreme precipitation. So that translates into floods, landslides, loss of life, loss of livelihoods,” said Trotz, a science advisor.

“We have some serious concerns about the viability of Caribbean life as we know it.”

ECOSYSTEMS

One key way to make coastal areas more resilient to storm surges and rising sea levels, linked to global warming, is to protect marine, coral and mangrove ecosystems, Trotz said.

Reefs act like breakwaters reducing wave strength, while salt-tolerant mangroves can buffer against hurricane winds and storm surges and cut wave height.

“As far as the human body is concerned, the healthier the body is, the more resilient it will be in terms of dealing with some of the threats, diseases,” Trotz said.

“So the same principle applies here, that the healthier our ecosystems, the healthier our reefs, wetlands and mangroves are, the more they will be able to resist some of the impacts of climate change,” he said.

Across the Caribbean, scores of projects are underway to restore battered coral reefs, establish artificial reefs, replant damaged mangroves and place millions of acres of marine areas under protected areas by 2020.

Some Caribbean nations also face water shortages exacerbated by longer droughts linked to climate change, Trotz said.

In several islands of the Grenadines, a pilot seawater desalination project using solar power is underway.

In Guyana, to better cope with drought and changing rainy seasons, rice farmers are using water harvesting and drip irrigation systems, and are receiving short-term weather forecasts allowing them to better decide when to plant crops.

SLOW MONEY

But more defensive action is hampered by a lack of funds.

Despite the United Nations Green Climate Fund, set up in 2010 to help poor countries tackle climate change, red tape means many small island nations are unable to access funding.

“The bottom line is that we don’t have the resources,” Trotz said. “It’s not that we don’t have any idea about how we need to build resilience.”

It can take from nine months to up to eight years to get funds from donors, Trotz said.

“The longer you delay, a lot of the assumptions you have made in the first instance are no longer valid .. we have to find some way of shortening that whole process.”

Credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation News

Preparing the country’s readiness and resilience in a time of climate change

A researcher checking out coral bleaching off the coast of Sint Maarten. (Nature Foundation File Photo)

Our country is surrounded by the deep blue Atlantic Ocean on one side the Caribbean Sea on the other.  Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as ours are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters.  Global climate change is expected to increase natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and drought.

In addition, to climate change, population growth and urban development are increasing the vulnerability of SIDS to natural disasters, particularly in urban and coastal areas.  Country Sint Maarten has seen and experienced in the past damages caused by storm systems and inclement weather to those aforementioned areas.

At the end of January it was announced in a discussion at the Dutch Second Chamber of Parliament that Curacao and Sint Maarten have not yet formally indicated whether they want to participate in the Kingdom Law proposal to ratify the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.  Aruba has responded that it would like to be a part of the Kingdom Law.

Climate Change is a Kingdom issue and should be addressed at that level, and Sint Maarten should be at the forefront in making sure that it receives the desired and serious attention it deserves.

The topic of climate change was also a discussion point at the recently concluded 15th Overseas Countries and Territories-European Union (OCT-EU) conference in Aruba which was attended by Sint Maarten’s Prime Minister William Marlin.

The effects of global climate change continue on a daily basis.  Each year the global community of nations are informed throughout the year about the impact human activities are having on our world.  One of the most recent developments is at the North Pole which saw for the month of January sea ice volume melting to a record low, according to the United Nations World Meteorological Agency (WMO).

Sea ice extent was the lowest on the 38-year-old satellite record for the month of January, both at the Arctic and Antarctic, according to data cited WMO from both the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and Germany’s Sea ice Portal operated by the Alfred-Wegener-Institut.

“The recovery period for Arctic sea ice is normally in the winter, when it gains both in volume and extent. The recovery this winter has been fragile, at best, and there were some days in January when temperatures were actually above melting point,” said recently David Carlson, Director of the World Climate Research Programme.

He added: “This will have serious implications for Arctic sea ice extent in summer as well as for the global climate system. What happens at the Poles does not stay at the Poles.”

In addition, the ice levels at the Antarctic are also at record lows, even thinner than expected for the summer season there.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement would be beneficial for country Sint Maarten with possible access to the Green Climate Fund, which is a mechanism established to assist SIDS and other countries in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Sint Maarten needs a “Climate Change Adapt-Mitigate” Plan of Action as our own very survival as a country depends on it.  Investments made in time will allow us to mitigate the changes for generations to continue to develop a vibrant and prosperous country for decades to come.  Let’s work towards preparing our country’s readiness and resilience in a time of climate change.

Credit: SOUALIGA Newsday

Caribbean warned to prepare for more severe storms

Caribbean warned to prepare for more severe storms

At an OECS climate change forum, environmentalists warn that frequency and intensity of extreme weather conditions is likely to increase.

OECS member states have been urged to prepare for more extreme weather conditions and natural disasters as a result of climate change.

The warning came from Crispin d’Auvergne, Saint Lucia’s Chief Sustainable Development Officer, who was a contributing panelist at an OECS climate change forum in Dominica.

The forum is part of the Vini Kozè (Let’s Chat) Series that engages citizens in discussion and debate on development opportunities and challenges facing the region.

According to Mr. d’Auvergne, a 2008 environmental study showed that while Saint Lucia sees an average of one to two Category 4 or Category 5 hurricanes per year, it is likely to increase to four or five hurricanes of that magnitude each year. Citing another study, Mr. d’Auvergne said rainfall in the Caribbean is expected to increase by 25 to 50 percent in the next five decades. These extreme weather patterns will become “the new normal” he said, adding that because the frequency and intensity of extreme weather conditions is likely to increase, the Caribbean should plan accordingly, preparing for more severe natural disasters like droughts, hurricanes and floods.

After Dominica was devastated by Tropical Storm Erica in August 2015, the Minister for Health and Environment, Dr. Kenneth Darroux, said Dominica had never seen a disaster of such proportions in terms of damage to infrastructure and the loss of life. Infrastructural damage was estimated at $1.4 billion. Minister Darroux said the storm caused the government to revisit its land use, policies, and regulations.

The Global Environment Fund (GEF) has been helping to build resilience in vulnerable communities in Dominica through its Small Grants Program (SGP). National Coordinator of GEF-SGP in Dominica, Agnes Esprit, said GEF’s intervention is driven by the communities in which it works, and that makes for a more sustainable and people-led approach to projects.

The Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) was also represented at the forum. Regional Chairperson, Jamilla Sealy, said CYEN does tremendous advocacy, public awareness, and education on the environment and climate change targeted at young people and the general populace. The Caribbean Youth Environment Network was integrally involved in the climate justice campaign that championed the “1.5 to Stay Alive” initiative leading up to COP 21 in Paris in December 2015. Sealy said she is encouraged by the traction which the movement gained.

Master Scuba Diver Kenneth Samuel, who owns and operates Kenneth’s Dive Centre in St. Kitts has earned a living from the sea for over 50 years. He started off as a fisherman and transitioned into scuba diving. Now in his 70s, Mr. Samuel said he has experienced the effects of climate change which have now begun to affect his livelihood.

The OECS Public Education Forum Series (PEFS) runs until March 2017. The next forum will be held in Martinique on Feb. 24. The topic for discussion will be OECS Regional Integration with a focus on the free movement of persons, the harmonization of legislation, and investment opportunities across OECS member states.

The forum series is part of the public education component of the Economic Integration and Trade Program of the OECS, funded by the 10th European Development Fund (EDF).

The forum was held at the Fort Young Hotel in Dominica on Feb. 10.

Credit: St. Lucia Times

Urgent Action Needed to Reduce Effects of Climate Change

Jamaica’s Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Hon. Daryl Vaz, has described climate change as a “real and present danger” that will persist, and “critical and urgent action” must be taken by nations globally to reduce its effects.

“We are now facing a future that almost certainly will be hotter, wetter and drier due to climate change. We will continue to experience increasing temperatures as well as more frequent and intense weather events, such as hurricanes, drought and floods,” he said.

The Minister was speaking at a forum at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston, on March 23 to mark World Meteorological Day, under the theme: ‘Hotter, Drier, Wetter – Face the Future’.

Mr. Vaz said the view expressed by some interests that climate change and environmental issues “only affect some of us, and is a problem for the distant future,” is a “misconception.”

“When temperatures soar to record levels, as they did during much of last year, it is not a few who feel the heat, but all of us. When drought ravages our crops and there are outbreaks of bush fires, we all pay higher prices at the market,” he noted.

Additionally, Mr. Vaz said when floods, resulting from hurricanes or intense rainfall, damage roads and other infrastructure, “the country stands the cost of rebuilding.”

“There is little wonder, therefore, that more Ministries within the Caribbean region are including climate change within their portfolio responsibilities,” he noted.

In this regard, Mr. Vaz commended the Meteorological Service of Jamaica (MSJ) for being at the forefront of climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

“Your members have been very vocal on the international scene in championing the cause of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), like Jamaica, which are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change…which highlights our true inter-dependence,” he said.

The forum was jointly staged by the Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change II (Ja REEACH II) Project and the MSJ.

It featured a panel discussion on the theme: ‘Hotter, Wetter, Drier – The Jamaican Context’, with climate change presentations by representatives of state agencies and academia, as well as an exhibition.

Ja REEACH is a four-year project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and jointly implemented with the Government of Jamaica.

It aims to safeguard agricultural and natural resource-based livelihoods, in order to improve institutional capacity to successfully adapt, mitigate and manage the effects of climate change.

World Meteorological Day is observed globally each year to promote sustainable development and to tackle climate change through the provision of the best available science and operational services for weather, climate, hydrology, oceans and the environment.

Credit: Jamaica Information Service

Reinsurers call for action at climate change summit

Politicians must act to cap global warming when they meet at a United Nations summit at the end of the year as the financial and humanitarian consequences of natural catastrophes become ever clearer, reinsurers meeting at an industry conference said.

The $600 billion reinsurance industry helps insurance companies pay damage claims from hurricanes, floods or earthquakes and can help people and companies get back on their feet after a disaster.

The UN’s climate boss warned this week that national promises to cut emissions so far would cap warming at an unacceptably high level, heightening concerns in the insurance industry about politicians’ lack of resolve.

“Definitely we expect political courage to move in a direction that shows responsibility towards future generations and a certain interest in defending the sustainability of this planet,” Swiss Re’s Chief Executive, Michel Lies, told a news conference.

Swiss Re data shows natural disasters caused an average $180 billion in economic damage per year over the last decade, of which 70 percent was uninsured.

Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s said big natural catastrophes can also lead to cuts in sovereign credit ratings — making it more expensive for governments to borrow money — with Latin America and the Caribbean most at risk.

These conclusions should help concentrate minds at the climate talks starting in Paris on Nov. 30, reinsurers said.

“What we can bring to the table is a credible price tag for the decisions that are taken or not taken, making sure everybody understands that in the short term you may not take a decision but you will definitely pay a price in the long term,” Lies said.

Weather researchers say global warming will result in more frequent and intense heatwaves, precipitation and storms. Warming needs to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels to avoid the most devastating consequences in the form of droughts and rising sea levels, scientists say.

“Even if this goal is not fully reached, every step in this direction is better than no result at all,” said Peter Hoeppe, head of Geo Risks Research at reinsurer Munich Re.

In the meantime, there must be increasing focus on preventive measures such as flood defences that can help dampen the rise in insurance premiums in the medium to long term, Hoeppe said.

Insurers and Group of Seven industrialized countries are working to expand the availability of insurance to an additional 400 million people in developing countries considered at high risk.

“Climate change is happening, no question,” said XL Group’s Chief Executive, Mike McGavick.

“Insurers and reinsurers have to be at the forefront of transferring that risk,” McGavick said.

Credit: St. Louis Post Dispatch

Caribbean Youth Ready to Lead on Climate Issues

Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

At 24 years old, Stefan Knights has never been on the side of those who are sceptical about the reality and severity of climate change.

A Guyana native who moved to Trinidad in September 2013 to pursue his law degree at the Hugh Wooding Law School, Knights told IPS that his first-hand experience of extreme weather has strengthened his resolve to educate his peers about climate change “so that they do certain things that would reduce emissions.”

“Notwithstanding our minor contribution to this global problem we are taking a proactive approach, guided by the recognition of our vulnerability and the tremendous responsibility to safeguard the future of our people.” – Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran.

Knights recalled his first week in Trinidad, when he returned to his apartment to find “the television was floating, the refrigerator was floating and all my clothes were soaked” after intense rainfall which did not last more than an hour.

“When we have the floods, the droughts or even the hurricanes, water supply is affected, people lose jobs, people lose their houses and the corollary of that is that the right to water is affected, the right to housing, the right to employment and even sometimes the right to life,” Knights told IPS.

“I am a big advocate where human rights are concerned and I see climate change as having a significant impact on Caribbean people where human rights are concerned,” he said.

Knights laments that young people from the Caribbean and Latin America are not given adequate opportunities to participate in the major international meetings, several of which are held each year, to deal with climate change.

“These people are affected more than anybody else but when such meetings are held, in terms of youth representation, you find very few young people from these areas,” he said.

Youth climate activist Stefan Knights. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Youth climate activist Stefan Knights. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

 

“Also, the countries that are not independent within Latin America and the Caribbean, like Puerto Rico which is still a territory of the United States, Montserrat, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, the voices of those people are not heard in those rooms because they are still colonies.”

Knights, who is also an active member of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), said young people are ready to lead.

“They are taking the lead around the world in providing solutions to challenges in the field of sustainable development,” he explained.

“For instance, CYEN has been conducting research and educating society on integrated water resources management, focusing particularly on the linkages between climate change, biodiversity loss and unregulated waste disposal.”

CYEN has been formally recognised by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) as one of its Most Outstanding Partners in the Caribbean.

As recently as December 2014, several members of CYEN from across the Caribbean participated in a Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C) Media Workshop on Water Security and Climate Resilience held here.

CYEN has been actively involved in policy meetings on water resources management and has conducted practical community-based activities in collaboration with local authorities.

CYEN National Coordinator Rianna Gonzales told IPS that one way in which young people in Trinidad and Tobago are getting involved in helping to combat climate change and build resilience is through the Adopt a River (AAR) Programme, administered by the National Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

“This is an initiative to involve the community and corporate entities in the improvement of watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago in a sustainable, holistic and coordinated manner,” Gonzales said.

“The aim of the AAR programme is to build awareness on local watershed issues and to facilitate the participation of public and private sector entities in sustainable and holistic projects aimed at improving the status of rivers and watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Most of Trinidad and Tobago’s potable water supply (60 per cent) comes from surface water sources such as rivers and streams, and total water demand is expected to almost double between 1997 and 2025.

With climate change predictions indicating that Trinidad and Tobago will become hotter and drier, in 2010, the estimated water availability for the country was 1477 m3 per year, which is a decrease of 1000 m3 per year from 1998.

Deforestation for housing, agriculture, quarrying and road-building has also increased the incidence of siltation of rivers and severe flooding.

“The challenge of water in Trinidad and Tobago is one of both quality and quantity,” Gonzales said.

“Our vital water supply is being threatened by industrial, agricultural and residential activities. Indiscriminate discharge of industrial waste into waterways, over-pumping of groundwater sources and pollution of rivers by domestic and commercial waste are adversely affecting the sustainability of our water resources.

“There is therefore an urgent need for a more coordinated approach to protecting and managing our most critical and finite resource – water,” she added.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran said there is an urgent need to protect human dignity and alleviate the sufferings of people because of climate change.

“We know that the urgency is now. Business as usual is not enough. We are not on track to meet our agreed 2.0 or 1.5 degree Celsius objective for limiting the increase in average global temperatures, so urgent and ambitious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is absolutely necessary,” he told IPS.

Dookeran added that “there is no excuse not to act” since economically viable and technologically feasible options already exist to significantly enhance efforts to address climate change.

“Even with a less than two degrees increase in average global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, small island states like Trinidad and Tobago are already experiencing more frequent and more intense weather events as a result of climate change,” Dookeran said.

The foreign affairs minister said residents can look forward to even more mitigation measures that will take place in the first quarter of this year with respect to the intended nationally determined contributions for mitigation.

“Notwithstanding our minor contribution to this global problem we are taking a proactive approach, guided by the recognition of our vulnerability and the tremendous responsibility to safeguard the future of our people,” he said.

“Trinidad and Tobago has made important inroads in dealing with the problem as we attempt to ensure that climate change is central to our development. As we prepare our economy for the transition to low carbon development and as we commit ourselves to carbon neutrality, the government of Trinidad and Tobago is working assiduously towards expanding the use of renewable energy in the national energy mix,” he added.

Credit: Inter Press Service News Agency

Caribbean urged to brace for impact of climate change

Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Minister, Robert Pickersgill (left), I discussions with CCCCC Executive Director, Dr. Kenrick Leslie (right) (JIS PHOTO)

Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Minister, Robert Pickersgill (left), I discussions with CCCCC Executive Director, Dr. Kenrick Leslie (right) (JIS PHOTO)

A two-week regional training workshop on climate change has started here with a warning that the Caribbean could suffer billions of dollars in losses over the next few years as a result of climate change.

“As a region, we have to assist each other in every conceivable way imaginable,” said Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Minister Robert Pickersgill at the start of the workshop that is being organised by the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) in partnership with several regional governments and the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).

It is being held under the theme “The use of sector-specific biophysical models in impact and vulnerability assessment in the Caribbean”.

Pickersgill said that Caribbean countries needed to work together to boost technical expertise and infrastructure in order to address the effects of the challenge.

He said global climate change was one of the most important challenges to sustainable development in the Caribbean.

Citing a recent report from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he noted that while the contribution of Caribbean countries to greenhouse gas emissions is insignificant, the projected impacts of global climate change on the Caribbean region are expected to be devastating.

Pickersgill said that according to experts, by the year 2050, the loss to the mainstay tourism industry in the Caribbean as a result of climate change-related impacts could be in the region of US$900 million.

In addition, climate change could cumulatively cost the region up to US$2 billion by 2053, with the fishing industry projected to lose some US$140 million as at 2015.

He said the weather activity in sections of the Eastern Caribbean over the Christmas holiday season was a prime example of this kind of devastation.

The low level trough resulted in floods and landslides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Dominica. At least 15 people were killed and four others missing. The governments said they would need “hundreds of millions of dollars” to rebuild the battered infrastructures.

“For a country the size of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, this loss is significant and could result in their having to revise their GDP (gross domestic product) projections. (Therefore), while one cannot place a monetary value on the loss of lives, the consequences in terms of dollar value to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is also important,” Pickersgill said.

“It only takes one event to remind us of the need to become climate resilient in a region projected to be at the forefront of climate change impacts in the future,” Pickersgill said, adding that he hoped the regional training workshop would, in some meaningful way, advance the Caribbean’s technical capabilities to meet the future projections head-on and be successful.

He said the workshop has particular relevance to Jamaica as one of the SIDS that is most vulnerable to climate change.

The two-week programme forms part of the European Union (EU)-funded Global Climate Change Alliance Caribbean Support Project, which is geared towards the creation and financing of policies that can reduce the effects of climate change as well as improved climate monitoring within the region.

The Global Climate Change Alliance project is to be implemented over 42 months and will benefit Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

CCCCC Programme Manager, Joseph McGann, said the project would include several activities including: enhancing national and regional institutional capacity in areas such as climate monitoring; data retrieval and the application of space-based tools for disaster risk reduction; development of climate scenarios and conducting climate impact studies using Ensemble modeling techniques; vulnerability assessments that can assist with the identification of local/national adaptation; and mitigation interventions.

CMC/id/ir/2014

Credit: CMC
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