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8/1/2014

Disaster-Prone Caribbean Looks to Better Financing

Filed under: agriculture,caribbean,climate change,disaster,weather — admin @ 4:58 am

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.

6/27/2014

Chikungunya

Filed under: caribbean,disease/health,dominica,dominican republic,usa — admin @ 3:55 pm

They suffer searing headaches, a burning fever and so much pain in their joints they can barely walk or use their hands. It’s like having a terrible flu combined with an abrupt case of arthritis.

Hospitals and clinics throughout the Caribbean are seeing thousands of people with the same symptoms, victims of a virus with a long and unfamiliar name that has been spread rapidly by mosquitoes across the islands after the first locally transmitted case was confirmed in December.

“You feel it in your bones, your fingers and your hands. It’s like everything is coming apart,” said 34-year-old Sahira Francisco as she and her daughter waited for treatment at a hospital in San Cristobal, a town in the southern Dominican Republic that has seen a surge of the cases in recent days.

The virus is chikungunya, derived from an African word that loosely translates as “contorted with pain.” People encountering it in the Caribbean for the first time say the description is fitting. While the virus is rarely fatal it is extremely debilitating.

“It is terrible, I have never in my life gotten such an illness,” said Maria Norde, a 66-year-old woman confined to bed at her home on the lush eastern Caribbean island of Dominica. “All my jointsare in pain.”

Outbreaks of the virus have long made people miserable in Africa and Asia. But it is new to the Caribbean, with the first locally transmitted case documented in December in French St. Martin, likely brought in by an infected air traveler. Health officials are now working feverishly to educate the public about the illness, knock down the mosquito population, and deal with an onslaught of cases.

Authorities are attempting to control mosquitoes throughout the Caribbean, from dense urban neighborhoods to beach resorts. There have been no confirmed cases of local transmission of chikungunya on the U.S. mainland, but experts say the high number of travelers to the region means that could change as early as this summer.

So far, there are no signs the virus is keeping visitors away though some Caribbean officials warn it might if it is not controlled. “We need to come together and deal with this disease,” said Dominica Tourism Minister Ian Douglas.

One thing is certain: The virus has found fertile ground in the Caribbean. The Pan American Health Organization reports more than 55,000 suspected and confirmed cases since December throughout the islands. It has also reached French Guiana, the first confirmed transmission on the South American mainland.

The Pan American Health Organization says seven people in the Caribbean with chikungunya have died during the outbreak but they had underlying health issues that likely contributed to their death.

“It’s building up like a snowball because of the constant movement of people,” said Jacqueline Medina, a specialist at the Instituto Technologico university in the Dominican Republic, where some hospitals report more than 100 new cases per day.

Chikungunya was identified in Africa in 1953 and is found throughout the tropics of the Eastern Hemisphere. It is spread by two species of mosquitoes, aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus. It’s also a traveler-borne virus under the right circumstances.

It can spread to a new area if someone has it circulating in their system during a relatively short period of time, roughly 2-3 days before the onset of symptoms to 5 days after, and then arrives to an area with the right kind of mosquitoes.

For years, there have been sporadic cases of travelers diagnosed with chikungunya but without local transmission. In 2007, there was an outbreak in northern Italy, so health authorities figured it was just a matter of time before it spread to the Western Hemisphere, said Dr. Roger Nasci, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“With the increase in travelers the likelihood that something like this would happen goes up and eventually it did,” said Nasci, chief of a CDC branch that tracks insect-borne diseases. “We ended up with somebody at the right time and the right place infecting mosquitoes.” The two species of mosquitoes that spread chikungunya are found in the southern and eastern United States and the first local transmissions could occur this summer given the large number of U.S. travelers to the Caribbean, Nasci said. Already, the Florida Department of Health has reported at least four imported cases from travelers to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Dominica.

“What we’re seeing now is an increase in the number of infected travelers coming from the Caribbean, which is expected because there’s a lot of U.S. travel, a lot of vacation travel, a lot of work travel,” he said.

Around the Caribbean, local authorities have been spraying fogs of pesticides and urging people to remove standing pools of water where mosquitoes breed.

An estimated 60-90 percent of those infected show symptoms, compared to around 20 percent for dengue, which is common in the region. There is no vaccine and the only cure is treatment for the pain and fluid loss.

One consolation for those suffering from the illness is that unlike dengue, which has several variants, people only seem to get chikungunya once.

“The evidence suggests that once you get it and recover, once your immune system clears the virus you are immune for life,” Nasci said.

Small Islands Facing Climate Change Are Beacons For The Rest Of The World

Filed under: caribbean,climate change,global islands — admin @ 3:18 pm

Facing potential extinction under rising sea levels, many small island nations are embracing renewable energy and trying to green their economies. Although the least responsible for carbon emissions, small countries like Barbados are on the front lines of climate impacts.

“Small island nations’ voices have to be heard by the rest of the world,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“Many will undergo fundamental changes. Some will lose 60 to 70 percent of their beaches and much of their tourism infrastructure. Climate change will destroy some countries and the livelihoods of millions of people,” Steiner told GIP in Bridgetown.

Up to 100 percent of coral reefs in some areas of the Caribbean sea have been affected by bleaching due to too-hot seawater linked to global warming. Without global action to reduce emissions there may not be any healthy reefs left in the entire Caribbean region by 2050, according to UNEP’s Small Island Developing States Foresight Report.

Released in Bridgetown on World Environment Day Jun. 5, the report calculates that island nations in the Caribbean face187 billion dollars in shoreline damage from sea level rise well before the end of this century.

A 50-cm sea level rise will mean the country of Grenada will lose 60 percent of its beaches. Sea levels are destined to rise far higher than that, say recent science reports about the unstoppable melt of the massive ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland along with hundreds of glaciers.

Islands are especially vulnerable to the impacts of global warming which will adversely affect multiple sectors including tourism, agriculture, fisheries, energy, freshwater, health and infrastructure, the report concludes.

“When our planet speaks we must listen,” said Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.

“Nature knows how to hit back,” Stuart told GIP.

For Barbados, World Environment Day with its theme “Raise Your Voice Not the Sea Level” was not just a ceremonial action but part of a commitment to become “the most advanced green economy in the Latin American and Caribbean region,” he said.

This country of 275,000 people is in the eastern Caribbean, 800 km from the shores of Venezuela. Facing recurring droughts in the past two decades, Barbados has been forced to use energy-intensive desalination to provide enough drinking water.

Imported fossil fuel means energy costs are many times higher than in rich countries like the U.S. Barbados has set a goal of 30 percent renewable energy by 2029 but expects to achieve this by 2019, said William Hines, Barbados’ Chief Energy Conservation Officer.

Solar energy is 30 to 40 percent cheaper but requires significant upfront investment since nearly everything must be imported. However, the payback period in a sun-rich country like Barbados is five to seven years, Hines said.

Aside from finding the money to build large-scale solar, integrating into the nation’s electrical grid has also been challenging. But because this is a small nation, the scope and scale of such challenges are smaller, and they can be resolved relatively quickly.

The three-coral atoll nation of Tokelau in the South Pacific became the first country in the world to become 100 percent powered by renewable energy in October 2012. Other South Pacific nations, including the Cook Islands and Kiribati, plan to be 100 percent renewable by 2020.

As a group, the 52 Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have committed to cut their fossil fuel dependence by 50 percent by 2035. This is as much about setting an example for the world as it is a solution to the crippling fossil fuel costs that devour half of some countries’ budgets.

Barbados is going beyond renewable energy and has put policies into place intended to `green’ its entire economy. It has already completed a three-year study called the Green Economy Scoping Study to determine what needs to be done. That research concluded that green policies are not enough, and that Barbados also needs more public and private investment, along with education and changes in consumer behaviour.

“Barbados is one of the world leaders in greening their economies,” Steiner told GIP in an interview.

Small islands need support including financing and technology transfer from the developed world to be able to make this transition and to cope with current and future climate impacts. They can and want to move quickly to diversify their economies, create green jobs, increase resource efficiency and shift to green energy, he said.

“Small islands can serve as beacons for the rest of the world,” Steiner stressed.

Nearly 4,600 now affected by untreatable virus spreading through Caribbean

Filed under: caribbean,disease/health,usa — admin @ 2:35 pm

Many people have heard of malaria and may even know about Dengue fever, two health-ravaging, mosquito-borne diseases. Malaria brings fever, chills and flu-like symptoms, and Dengue fever elicits fever, headache, pain and skin rash.

What few people have heard of is the chikungunya virus, an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was once isolated in Asia, Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Originally discovered in Tanzania in the 1950s, chikungunya stayed in the shadows for decades. By 2007, the disease had spread to northeastern Italy, infecting 10. Most shocking, though, has been its emergence in the past six months. The disease, spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has made its way to the Americas and is spreading fast. Hundreds of new cases have been rising up throughout the Caribbean islands.

4,600 new cases of chikungunya in the Caribbean

In the last six months, the Pan American Health Organization has documented nearly 4,600 new cases of chikungunya in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico has recently confirmed its first case as has the US Virgin Islands. The mosquito-borne disease is sweeping through the tropics, inflicting its victims with arthritis-like symptoms — chronic joint pain. The disease is like Dengue fever, causing fever, rash and nausea. The symptoms of chikungunya can last for months or years.

Chikungunya is spreading rapidly on the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, accounting for 2,800 of the new cases. At least 20 states or islands have confirmed new cases, with 793 cropping up on the French side of St. Martin and 123 on the Dutch side.

“It has not been here before, so people are susceptible, there is no resistance and we have had a lot of the mosquitoes that transmit it,” said Dr. James Hospedales, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency [emphasis added].

“The players in the tourism industry need to be concerned,” said Dr. Hospedales. “We have been working with the Caribbean Tourism Organization on some of the communications messages because you have to be truthful and honest in informing the population, but on the other hand you can’t cause alarm and panic.”

According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, more than 25 million tourists visited the disease-stricken region in 2013. The area is one of the largest tourist destinations in the world.

Chikungunya making its way to the US

As tourism treks on in the Caribbean, the CDC is worried that the virus will spread onto cruise ships, moving quickly to larger populations and, ultimately, the United States.

As a matter of fact, the first cases of the disease in the US have been confirmed in Georgia and Florida.

“Both the cases were imported,” said Claudia Blackburn, a health officer in Leon County Florida. Tourists who visited the Caribbean contacted the disease, but Blackburn said, “We don’t anticipate seeing any local spread.”

Since then, the CDC has confirmed at least 60 new cases arising in the US. In the meantime, public health officials advise travelers and tourists to wear protective clothing if possible, use mosquito nets or carry around a reliable bug repellent.

5/24/2014

Greenhouse Gardening

Filed under: agriculture,antigua,caribbean,climate change,resource,weather — admin @ 4:37 am

Antigua is one of the most drought-prone countries in the Caribbean. So whenever it rains, the inhabitants generally regard the weather as “showers of blessing”.

But that is starting to change. Many farmers now see the rains as a curse and are now fighting an uphill battle to save their crops, vital for both the local and foreign markets.
“The yield and lifespan [of crops in a greenhouse] basically are three times as much as open-field production.” — Delrie Cole

“We are a drought-prone country,” Ruleta Camacho, senior environmental officer in the ministry of agriculture, stated. “The issue now is that due to the impact of climate change, we are having exacerbated drought and exacerbated rainfall events.”

Heavy rainfall can damage crops and high humidity brings with it an infestation of pests and diseases, increasing the consumption of pesticides.

“We are having large amounts of rain in very short times. There are a number of communities that are affected by flood conditions, communities where the livelihoods of the population could be affected,” Camacho added.

One such community is Jonas Road where Delrie Cole has been farming for the last three years. But since Cole introduced greenhouse technology to his farm, he is no longer at the mercy of the rains.

With the greenhouses he is also able to grow his vegetables – cilantro, parsley, basil, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, pumpkins and tomatoes – during periods of drought or deluge.

“The need for the greenhouses came about because of climate change and a lack of production in the summer season when you have more stressful conditions,” he said.

“Due to the changing climate we are having hotter summers and it’s a pretty difficult time when you have the plants being stressed and the fruits are falling from the trees.

“The greenhouse basically gives you that edge where you can better operate in terms of control, cutting down some of the humidity that you would have during the summer,” he explained.

Greenhouse farming, which is cultivation of plants inside a building with glass walls and roof under controlled conditions, has become necessary with climate change.

Temperature and humidity can be controlled, making it possible for farmers to grow crops year-round.

“The yield and lifespan basically are three times as much as open-field production,” said Cole, who has been a farmer for more than 30 years.

“We are doing crops which are running 12 months, so whereas you would have planted a field that is carrying us through 12 months, farmers in the open would have been planting three crops within that same length of time and their yield would be less.”

Farmers in Antigua stand to benefit from the Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) project being implemented by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“The ministry of agriculture has identified the threat of heavy rainfall on cash crops such as lettuce and tomatoes,” Susanna Scott, coordinator of the RRACC project, said.

“A lot of damage could result from intense rainfall, which is expected to increase with climate change and also in time of drought the impact of the dry weather on these crops is severe as well,” she said. “So what we are looking at doing is investing in greenhouses to provide a protective area for crop growing.”

Antigua’s main agricultural exports include cotton to Japan and fruits and vegetables to other Caribbean territories.

Hot peppers and vegetables are also exported to the United Kingdom and Canada. Other agriculture products are bananas, coconuts, cucumbers, mangoes, livestock and pineapples.

Agriculture is currently a rather insignificant part of the economy, making up just four percent of GDP. However, it appears that cultivation is on the rise, with approximately 300 acres of land planted with vegetables.

Antigua has also been campaigning to encourage more youth to get involved in agriculture and there is evidence of some success.

Oraine Halstead and Rhys Actie, who are both under the age of 25, are full-time farmers.

“As a boy growing up with my grandmother, she was involved in planting vegetables and I got a little knowledge of it and fell in love with it,” Actie, a national of St. Lucia who moved here at the age of nine years and is now 23, said.

Halstead, who has been a farmer for two and half years, said farming is a very fulfilling career.

“I love to be around plants, taking care of them. It’s a joy to see them grow to maturity and the food they produce,” he said.

In the wake of climate change, greenhouse farming is seen as the only way to protect crops and manage a better yield than in normal condition. Farming under controlled condition protects crops from wind, rain, sun and precipitation.

The advantages of vegetable production in tropical greenhouses include higher yield and quality; reduced risks for quality and yield; less susceptibility to disease and damage caused by heavy rainfall; extended harvest time; reduced water consumption; and better use of fertiliser and pesticides.

“People are more keen as to what they consume and where it’s coming from. We are doing vine ripening so the flavour is good. Consumers are knocking on our doors because of the quality and the taste of our tomatoes,” Cole said.

Chikungunya outbreak

Filed under: caribbean,disease/health,dominica,dominican republic,haiti,usa — admin @ 4:14 am

They suffer searing headaches, a burning fever and so much pain in their joints they can barely walk or use their hands. It’s like having a terrible flu combined with an abrupt case of arthritis.

Hospitals and clinics throughout the Caribbean are seeing thousands of people with the same symptoms, victims of a virus with a long and unfamiliar name that has been spread rapidly by mosquitoes across the islands after the first locally transmitted case was confirmed in December.

“You feel it in your bones, your fingers and your hands. It’s like everything is coming apart,” said 34-year-old Sahira Francisco as she and her daughter waited for treatment at a hospital in San Cristobal, a town in the southern Dominican Republic that has seen a surge of the cases in recent days.

The virus is chikungunya, derived from an African word that loosely translates as “contorted with pain.” People encountering it in the Caribbean for the first time say the description is fitting. While the virus is rarely fatal it is extremely debilitating.

“It is terrible, I have never in my life gotten such an illness,” said Maria Norde, a 66-year-old woman confined to bed at her home on the lush eastern Caribbean island of Dominica. “All my jointsare in pain.”

Outbreaks of the virus have long made people miserable in Africa and Asia. But it is new to the Caribbean, with the first locally transmitted case documented in December in French St. Martin, likely brought in by an infected air traveler. Health officials are now working feverishly to educate the public about the illness, knock down the mosquito population, and deal with an onslaught of cases.

Authorities are attempting to control mosquitoes throughout the Caribbean, from dense urban neighborhoods to beach resorts. There have been no confirmed cases of local transmission of chikungunya on the U.S. mainland, but experts say the high number of travelers to the region means that could change as early as this summer.

So far, there are no signs the virus is keeping visitors away though some Caribbean officials warn it might if it is not controlled. “We need to come together and deal with this disease,” said Dominica Tourism Minister Ian Douglas.

One thing is certain: The virus has found fertile ground in the Caribbean. The Pan American Health Organization reports more than 55,000 suspected and confirmed cases since December throughout the islands. It has also reached French Guiana, the first confirmed transmission on the South American mainland.

The Pan American Health Organization says seven people in the Caribbean with chikungunya have died during the outbreak but they had underlying health issues that likely contributed to their death.

“It’s building up like a snowball because of the constant movement of people,” said Jacqueline Medina, a specialist at the Instituto Technologico university in the Dominican Republic, where some hospitals report more than 100 new cases per day.

Chikungunya was identified in Africa in 1953 and is found throughout the tropics of the Eastern Hemisphere. It is spread by two species of mosquitoes, aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus. It’s also a traveler-borne virus under the right circumstances.

It can spread to a new area if someone has it circulating in their system during a relatively short period of time, roughly 2-3 days before the onset of symptoms to 5 days after, and then arrives to an area with the right kind of mosquitoes.

For years, there have been sporadic cases of travelers diagnosed with chikungunya but without local transmission. In 2007, there was an outbreak in northern Italy, so health authorities figured it was just a matter of time before it spread to the Western Hemisphere, said Dr. Roger Nasci, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“With the increase in travelers the likelihood that something like this would happen goes up and eventually it did,” said Nasci, chief of a CDC branch that tracks insect-borne diseases. “We ended up with somebody at the right time and the right place infecting mosquitoes.” The two species of mosquitoes that spread chikungunya are found in the southern and eastern United States and the first local transmissions could occur this summer given the large number of U.S. travelers to the Caribbean, Nasci said. Already, the Florida Department of Health has reported at least four imported cases from travelers to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Dominica.

“What we’re seeing now is an increase in the number of infected travelers coming from the Caribbean, which is expected because there’s a lot of U.S. travel, a lot of vacation travel, a lot of work travel,” he said.

Around the Caribbean, local authorities have been spraying fogs of pesticides and urging people to remove standing pools of water where mosquitoes breed.

An estimated 60-90 percent of those infected show symptoms, compared to around 20 percent for dengue, which is common in the region. There is no vaccine and the only cure is treatment for the pain and fluid loss.

One consolation for those suffering from the illness is that unlike dengue, which has several variants, people only seem to get chikungunya once.

“The evidence suggests that once you get it and recover, once your immune system clears the virus you are immune for life,” Nasci said.

2/19/2014

Caribbean Climate Change

Filed under: antigua,caribbean,climate change,global islands,weather — admin @ 7:26 am

JONAS ROAD, Antigua , Feb 17 2014 – Antigua is one of the most drought-prone countries in the Caribbean. So whenever it rains, the inhabitants generally regard the weather as “showers of blessing”.

But that is starting to change. Many farmers now see the rains as a curse and are now fighting an uphill battle to save their crops, vital for both the local and foreign markets. “The yield and lifespan [of crops in a greenhouse] basically are three times as much as open-field production.” — Delrie Cole

“We are a drought-prone country,” Ruleta Camacho, senior environmental officer in the ministry of agriculture, said. “The issue now is that due to the impact of climate change, we are having exacerbated drought and exacerbated rainfall events.”

Heavy rainfall can damage crops and high humidity brings with it an infestation of pests and diseases, increasing the consumption of pesticides.

“We are having large amounts of rain in very short times. There are a number of communities that are affected by flood conditions, communities where the livelihoods of the population could be affected,” Camacho added.

One such community is Jonas Road where Delrie Cole has been farming for the last three years. But since Cole introduced greenhouse technology to his farm, he is no longer at the mercy of the rains.

With the greenhouses he is also able to grow his vegetables – cilantro, parsley, basil, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, pumpkins and tomatoes – during periods of drought or deluge.

“The need for the greenhouses came about because of climate change and a lack of production in the summer season when you have more stressful conditions,” he said.

“Due to the changing climate we are having hotter summers and it’s a pretty difficult time when you have the plants being stressed and the fruits are falling from the trees.

“The greenhouse basically gives you that edge where you can better operate in terms of control, cutting down some of the humidity that you would have during the summer,” he explained.

Greenhouse farming, which is cultivation of plants inside a building with glass walls and roof under controlled conditions, has become necessary with climate change.

1/20/2014

Climate Change & Disease

Caribbean countries, struggling to emerge from a slump in exports and falling tourist arrivals brought on by the worldwide economic crisis that began five years ago, have one more thing to worry about in 2014.

Dominica’s chief medical officer, Dr. David John, said climate change and its effects are taking a toll on the health of people in his homeland and elsewhere in the region. “A lot of diseases will essentially create havoc among people who are already poor.”

“You have seen what is happening [with] the effects of climate change in terms of our infrastructure, but there are also significant effects with regards to climate change on health,” John said, adding that “these effects relate to the spread of disease including dengue fever and certain respiratory illnesses.” John said the Dominica government would be seeking assistance from international agencies, including the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), to mitigate “the effects of climate change on health as it relates to dengue, leptospirosis and viral disease.”

In late 2012, the Ministry of Health in Barbados alerted members of the public about a spike in leptospirosis cases. Senior Medical Officer of Health-North Dr. Karen Springer said then that five people had contracted the severe bacterial infection, bringing the number of cases for the year to 18.

Springer explained that the disease, which includes flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, chills, nausea and vomiting, eye inflammation and muscle aches, could be contracted through contact with water, damp soil or vegetation contaminated with the urine of infected animals. Bacteria can also enter the body through broken skin and if the person swallows contaminated food or water.

In recent years, dengue has also been on the rise throughout the Caribbean with outbreaks in Dominica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico and the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, among other places.

Professor of environmental health at the Trinidad campus of the University of the West Indies Dr. Dave Chadee said there is ample “evidence that climate-sensitive diseases are being tweaked and are having a more significant impact on the region”.

He said he co-authored a book with Anthony Chen and Sam Rawlins in 2006 which showed “very clearly” the association between the changes in the seasonal patterns of the weather and the onset and distribution of dengue fever.

“There is enough evidence, not only from the Caribbean region but worldwide, that these extreme events are going to have and going to play a significant role in the introduction and distribution of these sorts of diseases in the region,” Chadee, who previously served as an entomologist at the Insect Vector Control Division of the Ministry of Health in Trinidad and Tobago, said.

“If you look at the various factors that are associated with climate change, the first is heat waves. There has also been a reduction in air quality. You also see an increase in fires and the effects on people’s ability to breathe as well as the association between the Sahara dust and asthma which was demonstrated in Barbados and Trinidad recently.

“The Sahara dust which comes in from Africa brings in not only the sand but also other pathogenic agents within the sand, together with some insecticides which have been identified by people working at the University of the West Indies,” Chadee said.

Dr. Lystra Fletcher-Paul, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representative for Guyana, said she has no doubt that climate change has contributed significantly to some of the issues related to diseases in the region.

“If you look at some of the impacts of climate change, for example drought, with drought you are going to increase the amount of irrigation that you are going to be applying to the crops. And irrigation water is a source of pesticides or even chemicals, depending on where that source of water is and that could lead to problems in health,” she said.

“Similarly with the extreme events, if you are talking about floods, there can be contamination of the fresh-water supply.”

The FAO representative is adamant that there is too much “talk” in the Caribbean and too little “implementation”.

“We have had the conversation, so what we need to do now is put the systems in place to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” she said. Using land-use planning as an example, Fletcher-Paul said, “A lot of what we see happening in St. Vincent and St. Lucia may not necessarily have taken place if we had proper land-use planning.”

A slow-moving, low-level trough on Dec. 24 dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Dominica, killing at least 13 people. The islands are still trying to recover.

“So we need to take some hard decisions in terms of where we would allow development to take place or not,” Fletcher-Paul said.

Chadee said the poor would always be at a disadvantage in climate change scenarios and they will suffer the most from sea level rise when you have salt water intrusion into fertile agricultural land, rendering them unsuitable for food production. “A lot of diseases will essentially create havoc to people who are already poor. The adaptability of the poor versus the rich within the Caribbean region will be tested because if the poor are no longer able to produce some of their food, this would then lead to health problems.”

He explained that if the poor are no longer able to have a particular diet this would make them susceptible to a number of diseases.

“With the Caribbean region having developing states, and especially Small Island Developing States, we do have a unique situation where the resources have to be put in place, especially for adaptation,” Chadee said.

“It’s almost like the wall of the reservoir has been breached and you know that the water is coming. You don’t know how high the water level is going to be but you know it’s coming, so what do you do? And that essentially is the scenario in which we have found ourselves in the Caribbean,” Chadee added.

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