Drought Risk Management in the Caribbean Community: Early Warning Information and Other Risk Reduction Considerations

Adrian Trotman, Antonio Joyette, Cedric Van Meerbeeck,

Introduction: The Caribbean Context of Drought

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is a political and economic grouping consisting of 20 countries—15 member states and 5 associate members stretching from Belize (in Central America) across the Antilles (including The Bahamas) to Guyana and Suriname on the South American continent. All CARICOM member states are recognized as small island developing states (SIDS) or SIDS associate members.

Climate-related hazards are the most frequently occurring natural hazards in the Caribbean. The region's acute vulnerability to climate-related hazards (including strong winds, storm surge, flooding, and drought) is reflected in loss of life, economic and financial losses, and damage to the environment. The drought hazard itself is anticipated to result in multifarious impacts on the Caribbean region. Already, the history of droughts in the Caribbean has revealed that impacts are socially wide-reaching, economically substantial, and diverse across sectors (Farrell et al. 2010; CIMH and FAO 2016), and that the region is plagued by inadequate risk management. As such, drought poses a significant challenge to the region's sustainable development. Current climate change predictions for the region indicate that the frequency and intensity of drought will increase in the future (CIMH and FAO 2016). As a result, addressing drought represents a critical aspect of the region's adaptation to climate change. Since the devastating drought of 2009-2010, significant progress has been made in monitoring, forecasting, and mitigating the impacts of drought in the region, such that by the 2014-2016 event, the region was better prepared. While significant progress has been made through a range of initiatives that will be discussed in this chapter, it is recognized that more work needs to be done at community, national, and regional levels in areas such as (1) the development and implementation of drought policy and plans,

  • (2) forecasting, early warning, and integrative decision-support systems, and
  • (3) stakeholder communication systems.

Seven of the world's top 36 water-stressed countries are in the Caribbean (WRI 2013). Island states such as Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis, with less than 1,000 m3 freshwater resources per capita, are deemed water-scarce (CIMH and FAO 2016). Within non-water-scarce countries, local communities and cities may be chronically water-scarce, especially under water-stressed conditions. Water scarcity on Caribbean islands is increasing because of the expansion of the tourism industry, population growth (although at slowing rates in several states), urbanization, increasing societal affluence, ineffective water management practices and strategies, and declining water quality due to anthropogenic activities and climatic fac- tors—including changing spatio-temporal climate patterns that will likely lead to increased occurrences of drought.

During the past decades, the Caribbean has experienced several drought events (CIMH and FAO 2016), including the two most recent events in

2009-2010 and 2014-2016. Changing climate in the Caribbean is expected to further exacerbate the impacts from drought (Farrell et al. 2007; Hughes et al. 2010; Joyette et al. 2015; Mumby et al. 2014; Pulwarty et al. 2010), with annual losses of US$3.8 million by 2080 (Toba 2009). This would be attributed to declines in rainfall, particularly in the wet season (Angeles et al. 2007; IPCC 2013; Taylor et al. 2012), and increasing temperature and associated increases in evaporation (Dai 2011, 2013) that are projected for the future.

Until the late 1800s, managing the impacts of drought focused primarily on preserving crown and estate wealth by decreasing the losses to plantation crops and livestock (Cundall 1927). From the late 1800s until recent decades, the focus of drought management shifted toward greater consideration of local societal needs. For example, authorities in the region commenced construction of water storage infrastructure, developed new sources of water and implemented water resources protection strategies and legislation, expanded and enhanced distribution networks, and organized water rationing during drought to ensure adequate supplies of water (Cramer 1938; Lindin 1973; MPDE 2001). At the turn of the twenty-first century, managing the response to drought became the responsibility of emergency management officials as drought was recognized as a national disaster (Maybank et al. 1995). The response to drought largely centered on potable water management through public alerts, encouraging public water conservation, and systematic water rationing. National disaster agencies charged with managing the response to drought are often overextended and overburdened with limited national coordination and linkages, and exiguous national policies and planning. Where national strategies exist, implementation can, at times, be a serious cause for concern.

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