KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Jun 15 2014 – A freak storm, followed by heavy floods in December 2013, will go down in history as the most destructive natural disaster to have hit the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with reported total damages and losses of at least 103 million dollars.
Six months later, the country, which is a member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), is still in the recovery phase of this crisis, but Tourism Minister Cecil McKee said several lessons have been learned, making the country better prepared for future catastrophic weather events.
“Although Caribbean nations have contributed little to the release of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change, they will pay a heavy price for global inaction in reducing emissions.” — Hela Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the Green Climate Fund “We have been dealing with our river defences and our coastal defences,” McKee told GIP, adding that the government is not only repairing damaged homes but also “relocating a number of persons whose homes are situated on river banks in areas that are obviously going to put them at risk should we have a reoccurrence of such events.”
A slow-moving, low-level trough on Dec. 24 dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on the Caribbean island states of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Dominica, killing at least 13 people.
Scientists have called the floods the worst disaster in living memory for the small countries, caused by higher-than-average rainfall of 15 inches, which overwhelmed the water systems’ ability to facilitate smooth run-off.
For Mckee, the Christmas disaster was a reminder that “climate change is going to be here with us for some time.”
“If we look at the events of Christmas Eve 2013, I think we can all agree that climate change is affecting not only St. Vincent and the Grenadines but the entire Caribbean in a significant way,” he asserted.
But simply understanding the problem is not enough – many of the island nations in the Caribbean are in dire need of financial resources to assist with mitigation and adaptation.
Caribbean looks to climate finance
Flooding is commonplace in the Caribbean, with Guyana, one of the most flood-prone countries in the region, recently benefitting from a multi-million-dollar credit scheme to guard against flooding. A statement from the World Bank said more than 300,000 people from the flood prone region of East Demerara will benefit from reduced flooding and climate risks as a result of an 11-million-dollar loan from the International Development Association (IDA).
Nearly 90 percent of Guyana’s population lives in this narrow coastal plain, largely below sea level and, therefore, highly vulnerable to climate change.
Extreme rainfall in 2005 resulted in flooding and damages estimated at nearly 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), or 465 million dollars at the time.
The impact on poverty was evident and many subsistence farmers, small business operators and vendors were affected.
Sophie Sirtaine, the World Bank’s country director for the Caribbean, said the funds would assist in providing opportunities for all Guyanese by reducing vulnerability to climate change.
“To boost competitiveness, it is essential to address the vulnerability to climate risks and ensure that the skills learnt in the classroom lay the foundation for future work-place success,” she told GIP.
Specifically, the project will upgrade critical sections of the East Demerara Water Conservancy dams and channels; improve drainage capacity in priority areas along the East Demerara coast; and increase flood preparedness by installing instruments to monitor hydro-meteorological data.
The IDA credit to the Government of Guyana has a final maturity of 25 years, with a five-year grace period.
During its annual board of governors meeting held in Guyana last month, Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) President Dr. Warren Smith said the Caribbean was becoming more aware of the severe threat posed by climate change on a daily basis. “Seven Caribbean countries…are among the top 10 countries, which, relative to their GDP, suffered the highest average economic losses from climate-related disasters during the period 1993-2012.
“It is estimated that annual losses could be between five and 30 percent of GDP within the next few decades,” he added.
According to Smith, despite the region’s high vulnerability and exposure to climate change, Caribbean countries have failed to access or mobilise international climate finance at levels commensurate with their needs.
Caribbean countries are hoping that the South Korea-based Green Climate Fund (GCF) would prove to be much more beneficial than other global initiatives established to deal with the impact of climate change.
GCF Executive Director Hela Cheikhrouhou, who delivered the 15^th annual William Demas Memorial lecture during the CDB meeting, said that the concern expressed by Small Island Developing States all over the world finds a strong echo in the Caribbean, where the devastating effects of hurricanes have been witnessed by many.
“Although Caribbean nations have contributed little to the release of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change, they will pay a heavy price for global inaction in reducing emissions,” Cheikhrouhou warned.
The GCF came into being at the 16^th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UFCCC) held in Cancun, Mexico.
Its purpose is to make a significant contribution to global efforts to limit warming to two degrees Celsius by providing financial support to developing countries to help limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
There are hopes that the fund could top 100 billion dollars per annum by 2020.
“Our vision is to devise new paradigms for climate finance, maximise the impact of public finance in a creative way, and attract new sources of public and private finance to catalyse investment in adaptation and mitigation projects in the developing world,” Cheikhrouhou said.
Selwin Hart, climate change finance advisor with the CDB, said the GCF provides an important opportunity for regional countries to not only adapt to climate change but also to mitigate its effects.
McKee said the region is also putting measures in place to mobilise financial support in events similar to what affected the three OECS countries in December 2013.
“Countries are being asked to place monies in regional holding systems that would allow the region to respond more [efficiently] and I think that we are looking more and more to the international bodies and the more developed countries”, which are largely responsible for climate change, for assistance, he told GIP.
CODRINGTON, Barbuda, Jun 30 2014 (GIP) – The 1,800 residents of the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda are learning to adapt as climate change proves to be a force to reckon with, disrupting not just the lives of the living but also the resting places of those who died centuries ago.
United States-based archaeologist Dr. Sophia Perdikaris said when Hurricane Georges hit in 1998, it did a lot more than turn the spotlight on the island’s shrinking coastline. “One of the sure things that will happen as a result of climate change is that one-third wetlands will engulf the one-third lowland…so that will leave us with 21 square miles of usable land.” — John Mussington
“In the early years when I first started coming to Barbuda, it was because hurricane activity had exposed a lot of archaeology and it was an effort to do rescue. A human skeleton from 450 AD was exposed in the area called Seaview,” Perdikaris told GIP.
“In fact, some of the archaeology [including the human skeleton] that we are now housing in the newly formed museum was excavated by Hurricane Georges.”
Perdikaris, a professor of anthropology and archaeology at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, said some of the findings coming out of Barbuda point to climatic shifts in weather conditions at the same time that the northern part of Europe was experiencing the little Ice Age.
“Similar signatures are coming out of Barbuda that actually have the same stories in Greenland, Iceland and the North Coast of Africa,” she said. “Hence, Barbuda is not just a small island in the Caribbean but actually a major part of bigger weather events in the circum Atlantic.”
Perdikaris said one of the things that Barbudans are faced with today is “a big word, climate change – what does it really mean and how is it affecting people’s lives and what can they do to change it?”
But she noted that the residents are very adaptive.
“We do find solutions with the help of the amazing expertise of the local people because they are the best experts for their local environment,” she said.
“We are trying to gather enough information to see what our challenges are and how we move forward; and then find the funding resources and technology to make that happen.
“We are monitoring erosion in many parts of the island and we also have been testing the wells to see whether the water is safe to drink or whether the salinity has been changing; all of these efforts in order to assess the three aquifers that are under Barbuda,” she added. Another project being developed on the island is aquaponics, the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics (growing plants without soil), amid a growing realisation that climate change will likely seriously threaten food security in Barbuda.
“There are diminishing resources in the sea. It is problematic to grow crops if you have a drought or if you only have salty water to water them so we have developed an aquaponics facility,” said Perdikaris.
Dr. Perdikaris said climate change has forced the residents of the island with a single village to make changes to their way of life and also to put measures in place to secure their future.
“As glaciers melt because of high temperatures what it’s doing to the rest of us is actually increase the sea level, and by increasing the sea level a number of things are taking place,” she said. “With a low-lying island like Barbuda, one of our main concerns is how much of the island, how fast, will actually be under water.
“As the sea waters are rising, they are not only claiming land but they are actually claiming the coral reefs,” Perdikaris added.
Marine biologist and environmentalist John Mussington said the warning by scientists that the 62-square-mile [161-square-kilometre] island is becoming one of the most vulnerable spots due to the consequences of climate change is not being taken lightly.
“Barbuda is flat; the highest point is just over 100 feet. Now with climate change predictions they are talking about several metres in terms of sea level rise. When you look at the present topography of Barbuda, it is 62 square miles. A third of Barbuda is taken up by lagoons and wetland systems. “Another third is what we call the lowlands. One of the sure things that will happen as a result of climate change is that one-third wetlands will engulf the one-third lowland to become two-thirds wetlands,” Mussington told GIP.
“So that will leave us with 21 square miles of usable land for sustaining communities. That is the reality we are facing.”
Barbuda’s culture is firmly based in a “living off the land concept” that Mussington said is fast becoming a thing of the past with the advent of climate change.
“We want to sustain the fact that Barbuda has a tradition of its people living off the land and one of the things we are going to face in terms of challenges from climate change is we are not going to be able to do that,” he said.
“If we are going to survive we have to overcome those challenges, hence the direction we are taking in terms of being able to continue to feed ourselves protein wise and vegetable wise.”
The entire population is being educated in aquaponics technology, a method of growing crops and fish together in a re-circulating system.
“We had a dream in 2012 of actually helping the situation in Barbuda by being able to guarantee that we can continue to get our protein source in the form of fish as well as to produce vegetables in spite of what was going to happen and what is happening from climate change,” Mussington said.
“In the aquaponics technology that we are pioneering we now house in our tanks 4500 tilapia.
“We have to find solutions in order to continue living on the island. That is why aquaponics turned out to be one of those things that we are pushing because the end result of the climate change consequences is that our coral reefs are going to suffer, our beaches are going to be shifting and changing,” Mussington added.
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Jun 26 2014 (GIP) – The Caribbean region’s bid to become food secure is in peril as farmers struggle to produce staple crops under harsh drought conditions brought about by climate change. But scientists are fighting back, developing drought-tolerant varieties which are then distributed to farmers in those countries most severely affected.
“We are mainly affected by issues of drought and…CARDI has been looking at methods of sustainable management of production using drought tolerant varieties. We are working with certain commodities and doing applied research aimed at producing them in the dry season,” Dr. Gregory Robin, CARDI representative and technical coordinator for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), told GIP.
“We’re starting first with the crops that are more significantly affected by drought. We take, for example, dasheen, which is a crop that requires a lot of moisture and I’m working with that crop in St. Vincent and St. Lucia,” he said.
“Validation will serve Jamaica, Grenada, Dominican Republic – all the islands that produce dasheen. Sometimes it’s not cost-effective to do activities in all the islands so some of the sweet potato work done here can be used in St. Kitts, Barbados and islands with similar agro-ecological zones and rainfall patterns,” he added.
The Trinidad-based CARDI (Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute), which has worked to strengthen the agricultural sector of member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for more than 30 years, is at the forefront of the research.
“CARDI has a body of professionals around the region so if we have any issues of climate change and drought, CARDI is a body of scientists that is available to all the islands of the CARICOM region,” Robin said.
Another crop being given special attention is sweet potato. Robin explained that for the Caribbean region, sweet potato is very important as a food security staple and foreign exchange earner.
“We’re working with the crops that we think are going to be affected most. Sweet potato can take a certain amount of moisture stress but dasheen and crops that require a high level of moisture are not going to be standing up so well to moisture stress, so we are starting with those with a high requirement of moisture first,” he said.
Noting that irrigation is key to productivity, the CARDI official explained that, “I have been working here for the past seven years and it’s the first time I’ve seen it so dry and it’s highlighting the point that we need to look at our rainwater harvesting systems.”
Climate change has also forced Guyana, considered the bread-basket of the Caribbean, to develop new varieties.
“We have also been growing different varieties of crops that are resistant to salt water because one of the impacts of climate change is that the salt water will creep more into the inland areas and so we are looking at salt-resistant rice for example; looking at crops that are much more resilient to dry weather and that can withstand periods of flooding,” Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy told GIP.
“We’ve been doing things like shade technology, drip irrigation, using technology and methods and utilising animals and crops that are far more resilient to extreme weather conditions.”
In addition to developing drought-tolerant varieties, CARDI is also actively developing new technologies to assist farmers with irrigation.
“I remember when I started in agriculture probably 20 years ago farmers used to irrigate using a drum and a bucket,” Bradbury Browne told GIP.
But he said over the years CARDI has introduced drip irrigation technology and other types of irrigation technology.
“For example if I want to apply 3,000 gallons of water to an acre of sweet potato I can programme [the irrigation system] so that I don’t have to be there physically to be turning on a hose or a pipe and there would be no issue of flooding if I am called away on an emergency,” said Browne, who now serves as a field technician at CARDI.
Meanwhile, longtime legislator in Antigua and Barbuda Baldwin Spencer noted that more frequent and extreme droughts are expected to become a feature of Caribbean weather.
And he said the impact of such drought conditions will increase heat stress, particularly for the more vulnerable, such as the elderly.
“Despite the decline in the production and export of major agricultural commodities from the OECS, agriculture remains an important sector in the economic and social development of the region from the stand-point of food security, rural stability and the provision of input to other productive sectors,” said Spencer, who served as prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda from March 2004 until Jun. 12 this year.
“These benefits are at risk from climatic events and this risk only increases as the climate continues to change,” he said.
Experts project that decreased production levels of major crops combined with increasing food demand will pose large risks to all aspects of food security globally and regionally including food access, utilisation and price stability.
The World Bank said food security is consistently seen as one of the key challenges for the coming decades and by the year 2050, the world will need to produce enough food to feed more than 2.0 billion additional people, compared to the current 7.2 billion.
It said most of the population growth will be concentrated in developing countries, adding pressure to their development needs.
The World Bank added that to meet future food demand, agricultural production will need to increase by 50-70 percent, according to different estimates. And this will happen as the impacts of climate change are projected to intensify overall, particularly hitting the poorest and most vulnerable countries.