Caribbean Adapting to Climate Changes


Global warming, characterised by an increase in surface temperatures, will lead to changes in many aspects of the weather, including the amount and type of precipitation, and the frequency and severity of weather events.
“We must prepare for this,” says Jeffery Spooner, head of Climate Change at the Meteorological Service. He notes that not only will the increase in surface temperature cause coral reefs to die, but there will be more intense hurricanes, floods and droughts, which will negatively affect the agricultural sector, on which Jamaica and a number of other Caribbean countries are so dependent.
As a result, he notes, “we have to be looking at adapting measures to try to survive.to try to be sustainable in these events.”
The Water Resources Authority (WRA), Jamaica’s premier hydrologic agency, has overall responsibility for the management, protection, and controlled allocation and use of Jamaica’s water resources. The WRA is also responsible for developing adaptation strategies in the water sector in light of the impending climate changes and has recognised that public education is a critical tool to developing such strategies.
The earth has been warming since the mid-1800s, say more than 600 researchers who prepared the most recent United Nations-sponsored evaluation of climate change. They say what appears to be abnormally high temperatures over the past 50 years are very likely traceable to the by-products of an industrial society, including the carbon dioxide that comes from cars, industries and power plants. The consensus is that, human behaviours and practices are affecting the rate at which the climate is changing and unless people appreciate that, it cannot be business as usual, as everyone will suffer the consequences.Jamaica and the other islands of the Caribbean are not major emitters of greenhouse gases, which in fact come from the industrialised countries. But they still have a role to play.
“The small-island developing states are the ones most vulnerable and are least able to adapt to these climate changes which are taking place, and as such, our drive is adapting to these climate change scenarios. That is why we are working both locally and on the regional level to undertake these studies, to see where the vulnerable areas are and to see what adaptation measures can be put in place,” Mr. Spooner explains.
The world is sufficiently satisfied that the time to act is now, and various agencies and committees have been convened with a mandate to explore and in some cases, implement strategies for adapting to climate change. Some islands in the Caribbean have been working together to devise strategies.
They met in Jamaica for two days earlier this month to share ideas at a technical workshop entitled ‘Adapting to Climate Change in the Caribbean (ACCC)’.
The ACCC project was initiated in 2001 and the idea was to come up with strategies to address some of the problems that may arise out of changes to the world’s climate, especially in the Caribbean region. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the implementing agency of the Canadian Climate Change Development Fund (CCCDF) is providing the funds for the project, and the Regional Project Implementation Unit (RPIU) in Barbados has been selected as the executive agency and grant recipient.
“The ACCC project is really one that provides a bridge between the planning stages, Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change in the Caribbean (CPACC) and the Mainstreaming of Adaptation to Climate Change (MACC),” explains Mr. Spooner.
In the ACCC component 6, water management is the focus. “It is really for us to have a better understanding of how climate change will impact on our water resources, in Jamaica,” he says.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the RPIU and the WRA was signed in June 2003 and, as Herbert Thomas, Director of Resource Management at the WRA tells JIS News, the agency was mandated to establish a set of strategies for Jamaica’s water sector, test the strategies in a pilot study to determine their effectiveness, and present the strategies as models to be used in the other Caribbean countries.
The WRA, along with the Meteorological Office, National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), National Water Commission (NWC), National Irrigation Commission (NIC), and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), has selected three adaptation options for consideration in the Jamaican context. These are, monitoring and studies; demand management; and flood damage reduction.
Under monitoring and studies, these agencies have been looking at the network and programmes currently used for monitoring water levels, stream flow, and rainfall, with a view to deciding their effectiveness with regard to detecting climate change, and if necessary, to establish criteria for a more effective network.
“With respect to the data that we generate from these monitoring systems, what we propose to do as well, is to develop bulletins, where once you have done the appraisal as to the status of the water levels, stream flows, rainfall and weather conditions, then we can disseminate the information to the decision makers and to the service providers and to the various water users,” Mr. Thomas tells JIS News.
In demand management, the emphasis is on public awareness and public education. The target group is the decision makers and the farmers in particular because the agriculture industry uses the greater amount of Jamaica’s water resources, and Mr. Thomas is of the view that the emphasis would have to be placed on water conservation and general water use in this sector.
“We are doing some public awareness programmes with the farmers in Clarendon, where we are getting them to understand the implications of climate change and to be made aware of some of the ways in which they can in fact reduce their demand for water. In fact the emphasis really is on the three R’s – reduction, recycling and reuse,” says Mr. Thomas.
In terms of flood damage reduction, the agencies are seeking to update and make more user-friendly, existing flood plain maps to see how these maps can be integrated into the development approval processes by the parish councils. According to Mr. Thomas, after developing guidelines for using these maps, they will be presented as models to be used in other countries.
“The new format for the maps will be able to say decisively that you can use this portion of the flood plain, for subdivisions or recreation, or whatever it is, but…there will be a whole range of conditions to be considered. You might have to look at flood proofing.you might want to make sure that there is a warning organisation in support of it,” he continues.
The changes in climate are taking place, and they are evident, says Mr. Spooner, so it is important to plan to adapt to these changes. While the WRA and its partner agencies in the water sector believe that much of the work needs to take place at the policy making and implementation levels, it is important for consumers to get on board and conserve the precious life-saving resource by using water wisely and properly.
Giving some guidelines that consumers can practice, Mr. Thomas advises that persons should save on water as much as possible and try to protect the water resources to ensure that the quality is protected; be careful when disposing waste and avoid disposing waste near or in water bodies such as rivers or canals; reduce water usage; and recycle and reuse water where possible.

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