Tag Archive | disaster mitigation

Caribbean Scientists Work to Limit Climate Impact on Marine Environment

by Zadie Neufville

The following was published by InterPress Service (IPS) on April 28, 2017
KINGSTON, Jamaica:
Caribbean scientists say fishermen are already seeing the effects of climate change, so for a dozen or so years they’ve been designing systems and strategies to reduce the impacts on the industry.

Diver checking growing reef fragments

Caribbean scientists are finding some successes in reef gardens. This diver checks growing reef fragments.

While some work on reef gardens and strategies to repopulate over fished areas, others crunch the data and develop tools designed to prepare the region, raise awareness of climate change issues and provide the information to help leaders make decisions.

As the oceans absorb more carbon, the region’s supply of conch and oysters, the mainstay of some communities, is expected to decline further.

In December 2017, the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) secretariat, with funding from the UK government, announced a Climate Report Card to help formulate strategies to lessen the impact of climate change on regional fisheries.

“The CRFM is trying to ensure that the issue of climate change as it relates to the fisheries sector comes to the fore… because the CARICOM Heads of Government have put fish and fishery products among the priority commodities for CARICOM. It means that things that affect that development are important to us and so climate change is of primary importance,” said Peter Murray, the CRFM’s Programme Manager for Fisheries and Development.

The grouping of small, developing states are ‘fortifying’ the sectors that rely on the marine environment, or the Blue Economy, to withstand the expected ravages of climate change which scientists say will increase the intensity of hurricanes, droughts, coastal sea level rise and coral bleaching.

In its last report AR5, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported: “Many terrestrial, freshwater and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances and species interactions in response to ongoing climate change,” patterns that are already being noted by Caribbean fishers.

In an email to IPS, Murray outlined several initiatives across the Caribbean that he says are crucial to regional efforts. The Report Card, which has been available since March, will provide the in-depth data governments need to make critical decisions on mitigation and adaptation. It provides information covering ocean processes such as ocean acidification; extreme events like storms, surges and sea temperature; biodiversity and civil society including fisheries, tourism and settlements.

In addition, the 17-members of the CRFM agreed to incorporate the management of fisheries into their national disaster plans, and signed off on the Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy for the fisheries sector.

“It means that anything looking at climate change and potential impacts is important to us,” Murray says.

The IPCC’s gloomy projections for world fisheries has been confirmed by a 2015 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report indicating that for the last 30 years, world fisheries have been in decline due to climate change. In the Caribbean, reduced catches are directly impacting the stability of entire communities and the diets and livelihoods of some of the region’s poorest. Further decline could devastate the economies of some islands.

Birds flock to fishermen’s boats at landing of Pedro Bank, Jamaica. CHECK WITH MACR FOR USAGE RIGHTS

But even as climate change is expected to intensify the effects of warming ocean waters, pelagic species could avoid the Caribbean altogether, bringing even more hardships. So the regional plan is centred on a Common Fisheries Policy that includes effective management, monitoring and enforcement systems and tools to improve risk planning.

In addition to the disaster plan and its other activities, the Community has over time installed a Coral Reef Early Warning System; new data collection protocols; improved computing capacity to crunch climate data; an insurance scheme to increase the resilience of fishing communities and stakeholders; as well as several tools to predict drought and excessive rainfall.

Worldwide, three billion people rely on fish as their major source of protein. The industry provides a livelihood for about 12 per cent of the world’s population and earns approximately 2.9 trillion dollars per year, the WWF reports. With regional production barely registering internationally, the Caribbean is putting all its efforts into preserving the Blue Economy, which the World Bank said earned the region 407 billion dollars in 2012.

The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, known regionally as the 5Cs, has coordinated and implemented a raft of programmes aimed at building systems that will help the region cope the effects of climate change.

Through collaboration with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the 5Cs has been setting up an integrated network of climate and biological monitoring stations to strengthen the region’s early warning mechanism.

And as the oceans absorb more carbon, the region’s supply of conch and oysters, the mainstay of some communities, is expected to decline further. In addition, warming sea water is expected to shift migration routes for pelagic fish further north, reducing the supply of available deep sea fish even more. Added to that, competition for the dwindling resources could cause negative impacts of one industry over another.

But while scientists seek options, age-old traditions are sometimes still pitted against conservation projects. Take an incident that played out in the waters around St. Vincent and the Grenadines a few weeks ago when whale watchers witnessed the harpooning of two orcas by Vincentian fishermen.

The incident forced Prime Minister Ralph Gonsavles to announce the end of what was, until then, a thriving whaling industry in the village of Barouille. For years, government turned a blind eye as fishermen breached regional and international agreements on the preservation of marine species. The continued breaches are also against the Caribbean Community’s Common Fisheries Policy that legally binds countries to a series of actions to protect and preserve the marine environment and its creatures.

On April 2, five days after the incident, Gonsalves took to the airwaves to denounce the whaling caused by “greed” and announce pending regulations to end fishing for the mammals. The incident also tarnished the island’s otherwise excellent track record at climate proofing its fishing industry.

Murray’s email on regional activities outlines SVG activities including the incorporation of the regional strategy and action plan and its partnership with several regional and international agencies and organisations to build resilience in the marine sector.

redtail parrot fish

Redtail parrot

Over in the northern Caribbean, traditions are also testing regulations and international agreements. In Jamaica, the Sandals Foundation in association with major supermarket chains has launched a campaign to stop the capture and sale of parrotfish for consumption.

Scientists say that protecting the parrot is synonymous with saving the reefs and mitigating the effects of climate change. And further north in the Turks and Caicos, the government is searching for new ways to manage the conch and lobster populations. While trade is regulated, household use of both, sea turtles, and some sharks remain unregulated; and residents are resistant to any restrictions.

And while many continue to puzzle about the reasons behind the region’s climate readiness, scientists caution that there is no time to ease up. This week they rolled out, among other things, a coastal adaptation project and a public education and awareness (PAE) programme launched on April 26 in Belize City.

The PAE project, named Feel the Change, is funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Project (J-CCCP) public awareness programme. Speaking at the launch, project development specialist at 5Cs Keith Nichols pointed to the extreme weather events from severe droughts to changes in crop cycles, which have cost the region billions.

“Climate change is not just sea level rise and global warming; climate change and climate variability is all around us,” he said


Jamaica’s Aging Water Systems Falter Under Intense Heat and Drought

By Zadie Neufville

(The following article was published by InterPress Service on  Nov 18 2015 )

KINGSTON, Jamaica: This past summer Jamaicans sweltered through their third consecutive year of reduced rainfall resulting in wild fires, a crop-killing drought and daily water cuts.

As temperatures exceeded 93.7 F (34.2 Celsius) in several areas, the Meteorological Service urged Jamaicans to “Wake up to the realisation that climate change is already a fact of life.” Some of the hottest days on record had been recorded in July with even higher temperatures predicted for August.

54With storage running low and an expectation that conditions would exceed the drought of 2014, the National Water Commission (NWC) began its annual restrictions and rolling lock-offs. In 2014, thought to be Jamaica’s worse drought in more than 30 years, rainfall averaged 2 to 12 percent in the most affected areas.

Meteorologist Evan Thompson told reporters at the Gleaner’s Editors Forum on July 1, “We are talking about climate change, sometimes thinking about it as something that is still coming, whereas it is something that is already here.”

As the NWC scrambled to reactivate out-of-use wells to ease the shortages, many called for the dredging of dams and reservoirs to increase storage capacities. Environment, Water and Climate Change Minister Robert Pickersgill announced a ‘prohibition notice’ with a penalty of up to 30 days in jail for “anyone caught using the precious liquid for anything other than household and sanitary use. “ For the first time Jamaica had attached enforcement penalties to water restrictions.

Kingston, one of the areas most affected by lock offs, sits on an abundance of tainted water in underground aquifers. But the capital city’s large untapped water source represents only a portion of the vast reserves that experts say remain under-exploited.

According to the Water Resources Authority (WRA), the island’s water management and regulatory body, Jamaica uses only 25 percent of its available groundwater resources and 11 percent of its accessible surface water.

Head of the WRA Basil Fernandez told IPS that it would take “proper water planning to deal with non-revenue water and improve transmission and distribution efficiency,” to solve the problem.

“There is need for a roadmap from the NWC and/or the Ministry on water supply planning that will set out clearly the areas of deficit, areas of surplus and how and when we will move from surplus to deficit areas,” he said.

Across the country households cleared inventories of water tanks, manufacturers increased production and hoteliers tapped into their storage tanks. Fires and the unrelenting sun destroyed the rain-fed farms of prized Blue Mountain Coffee crops, vegetable crops and Christmas trees that are grown in the buffer zone of the Blue Mountain National Park.

Lower down the slopes, fires also destroyed mature trees and vegetation in the Hope River and Yallahs Watershed areas, which supply 40 percent of NWC’s 600,000 customers in the Kingston Metropolitan region. Much of the area had been replanted between 2011 and 2013 as part of Jamaica’s Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction.

Under the project, the Forestry Department replanted more than 300,000 hectares of forests in degraded upper watershed areas to reduce run-off, erosion and silting of the waterways.

LABUSA-SUGAR-CANE-WORKERSAs water restrictions widened, farmers on the plains fared no better. The usually six-month long sugar cane harvest was over in less than a month after fires and drought decimated the crop. The Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) reported that the drought was most severe in Manchester and St. Elizabeth the ‘bread basket’ areas that accounted for about 40 percent of domestic agricultural production. In other areas crops wilted in the fields.

Scientists are predicting that these episodes will worsen as climate change increases the intensity of droughts across the Caribbean. Thompson agreed, noting that the unseasonably dry periods are happening in the midst of the Atlantic Hurricane season that runs from June 1 to November 30.

Unless there is rainfall and constant inflows of water, the volume of water will not significantly increase, Fernandez, told IPS, effectively dismissing calls for more dams and the de-silting the Mona Reservoir and Hermitage Dam.

“There must be better coordination of climate change efforts and projects; better communication to get the public to buy into the these efforts as well as the inclusion of climate change scenarios and impacts in all policies and projects and maintenance and adaptation of systems rather than building new systems,” he said.

As part of Jamaica’s Vision 2030, to make the country more resilient to the impacts of climate change, Government has begun work to protect and better manage the distribution of water. At risk are the nation’s health, the tourism and agricultural industries and Jamaica’s food security.

Vision 2030 is built into Jamaica’s second national communication to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (UNCCC).

In the last year, 25 water and sewage projects were completed to upgrade then old, leaky infrastructure which when coupled with theft, costs the NWC about 53 percent or 108 million liters of its daily production in the Kingston Metropolitan Area alone.

A 3.9 million dollar Watershed Management project funded by the Inter-American Development Bank through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is expected to, among other things, improve water resource management in the Yallahs and Hope River watersheds. The five year programme is to carry out work on 44,486 hectares of land including sections of the region’s newest World Heritage Site, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.

The river at Castleton Gardens, Jamaica. Rivers are one of the main sources of water on the island.

The river at Castleton Gardens, Jamaica. Rivers are one of the main sources of water on the island.

An Artificial Aquifer Recharge facility to secure the sustainable abstraction of water from the aquifer by treating and returning excess water into natural underground storage is ongoing.

“This is a pioneering project, as it has never before been carried out in Jamaica or the Caribbean,” Pickersgill said at the July 2014 launch.

In addition, Government is also looking at plans to recover some of Kingston’s water that has been polluted by faecal bacteria from soak-away pits, latrines and saline intrusion.

The key to making the country resilient Fernandez said is “the preparation of communities and agencies to manage and conserve the resources; efficiently moving water from the north to the south of the island and a move to larger more efficient and resilient distribution systems.”

As Thompson explained, “So the droughts will be more severe, the rainfall episodes will be more significant, causing flooding. There will still be the need to work out how we manage the water resourced in between those episodes.”

The original article is here

Human Activity and Climate Change Threaten Tourism in Jamaica

Story published by IPS on June 6, 2012
Experts here fear that that the impact of climate change on Jamaica’s fragile ecosystems will worsen the ravages of human activity and destroy the country’s tourism industry.

Dunns River, perhaps the best know river on the island because of the famous Dunns River Falls- the most photographed place on the island.

Tourism is one of the few local sectors that experienced growth even as the global economy declined. In Jamaica, tourism grew some 4.2 percent between 2002 and 2007. It provides close to 2 billion U.S. dollars annually, roughly 50 percent of the island’s foreign exchange earnings and about a quarter of all jobs.

The sector is aware of the challenges it faces, Tina Williams, a director in the ministry of tourism, told IPS. She noted that sea level rise is expected to inundate much of the island’s coastal areas, its infrastructure, hotels and attractions.

More intense rainfall and hurricanes and drier and hotter days are also expected to intensify the pressure on local ecosystems and the tourism industry.

But Williams noted that while the sector is not focused specifically on climate change, stakeholders are implementing disaster risk reduction strategies and programmes that they hope will make their product more resilient.

“Climate change will exacerbate all the vulnerabilities the sector faces – landslides, flooding – and with many small owners who are dependent on local agriculture, the industry will no doubt feel the impact,” Williams, who is responsible for overseeing climate change policy in the ministry, told IPS.

The sector’s dependence on natural ecosystems places it on the frontline of the climate change fight. Yet the industry itself has exacted a heavy toll on the local environment, causing irreversible damage in some areas.

Dying reefs
Reports indicate that as much of 30 percent of the island’s original coastal vegetation has been lost. Most of the 1,240 square kilometres of coral reefs, with an estimated 111 species of coral, is mostly dead from a combination of human activities and disease. Of the remaining coral, about 60 percent are at risk, the World Resources Institute noted in a 2010 report.

High levels of nutrients from agricultural run-off and the disposal of sewage in coastal waters have also damaged the reefs. According to government data, the resort towns of Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and areas along the south coast in the Portland Bight protected area have felt the greatest impact.

Marine biologist Andrew Ross noted that ongoing coral bleaching, overfishing, land clearance and pollution – particularly that of sewage – have all contributed to the decline of reefs.

“Places with regular tourism visitation will see a lot of accidental and/or anchor damage and even some harvesting or collecting for the knickknack shelf,” he said.

But nowhere is the situation more telling than along the Negril coastline. Here, the sand dunes have long given way to concrete houses, hotels and sewage plants. Here, scientists say, the widespread destruction of coastal vegetation, forests and wetlands is providing a glimpse of the ravages climate change is expected to bring.

Panorama of Negril Beach, Jamaica

The true cost of development
Negril’s tourism infrastructure was built at the expense of its coastal wetlands. Coastal mangrove forests and sea grass beds were removed to provide access to the gleaming white sands that tourists love.

Now, the famous white sand that earns roughly half of Jamaica’s tourism earnings is being washed away at rates between a half and one metre per year. According to reports, some areas have lost as much as 55 metres of beach in the last 40 years.

The erosion, scientists from the University of the West Indies (UWI) have found, is the direct result of development. When they removed the wetlands, developers destroyed the carbon-secreting organisms that inhabited the sea grass beds and produced at least half of the sand.

“The significant lack of coral in the beach sand indicate that algal fragments are probably not derived from the reef but rather from algae in the shallow shelf environment of the inner bay,” the 2002 study said.

“Human activities also play a major role” in reef degradation, noted a report from the Risk and Vulnerability Methodology Development Project (RiVAMP) of the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP), even as the report acknowledged that external phenomena were nonetheless important factors.

The report noted that the traditional use of sea grass as compost for farming and its use in traditional drinks have taken away from existing beds. Locals also cut down mangroves to provide fuel wood and as material for housing.

The future of tourism in Jamaica
Even as visitor arrivals are projected to increase to 3.1 million by 2050, climate change could see the numbers fall to 2.7 million by that time, experts have said.

Jamaican tourism is rooted in its white sand beaches and sun and is location-specific to resort towns such as Negril. Much of the island’s infrastructural development has gone into these resort areas, which also happen to lie within predicted flood zones.

Increasingly, the industry is expanding its offerings to include bird watching, community tourism, nature trails and health tourism.

To lessen the impact and repair some of the damage, the island is undertaking a broad-based climate change adaptation and risk reduction programme, replanting hardwood and mangrove forests as well as sea grass beds. One local NGO, with assistance from corporate Jamaica, is building an artificial reef in the Portland Bight area, as well as in Negril.

Williams noted that the tourism ministry is also working with other agencies to sensitise stakeholders.

Central to the adaptation plan is a Natural Resources Valuation process aimed at developing tools to aid stakeholders in assigning monetary value to natural resources, environmental economist Maurice Mason told IPS.

“We are building formulae that will help us to determine the value of our natural resources whether we want to develop, keep it for future use or just keep it for the satisfaction of having it,” he said.

Mason, who works with the UWI Risk Reduction Centre, noted that the methodologies will provide authorities with the tools to help with decision making that promotes the sustainable use and development of the natural environment.

“It will also aid in the development of alternative employment for the many poor Jamaicans for whom alternative livelihoods must be found if the natural ecosystems are to be preserved and/or sustainably exploited,” Mason said.

The river at Castleton Gardens, Jamaica. Rivers are one of the main sources of water on the island.

Ross, whose company Seascapes Caribbean specialises in the replanting of coral reefs, pointed out that it will take “absolute commitment” to halt the decline of the local environment on which the industry depends.

“We could be talking about a return of the 1970s heyday of us providing the best scuba diving in the world,” he said. “Return of coral also means return of the fisheries and coastal protection, including protection of roads and infrastructure.”

Waking up to Urgency of a National Climate Policy

This article was published by IPS on Dec 9.
By Zadie Neufville
As increasingly extreme and erratic weather driven by the earth’s changing climate exacts a heavy toll on Jamaica’s population, economy and infrastructure, a consensus has emerged among scientists and policy makers here that adaptation measures must include hazard mitigation.

Despite an array of projects, there is no single unit to coordinate the country’s policy initiatives. But under a document dubbed the second national communication on climate change, agencies are now working more closely together to forge sustainable solutions, and acknowledge the critical involvement of local communities.

Over at the Forestry Department, conservator and chief executive officer Marilyn Headley outlined several initiatives aimed at enhancing efforts to cope with the effects of climate change.

“Half the people tend to forget that without forest cover, you can’t mitigate against climate change,” Headley told IPS, pointing to the importance of forests on the steep hillsides that makes up much of this northern Caribbean isle.

Since the project started in February this year, Headley said, the Forestry Department has begun the rehabilitation of 300 hectares of degraded watersheds; assessment of the additional 2,600 hectares of forest to be given protected status; as well as the production of 300,000 timber and fruit tree seedlings to be used in a replanting programme.

Plans are also in place for the installation of river training structures and for equipping and training local communities to prevent and control wild fires.

Also underway is an assessment of forest land use cover change to determine the rate of deforestation on the island. One drawback, Headley rued, is that only a third of Jamaica’s 336,000 hectares of remaining forests are controlled by government.

More worrying, some say, is that agriculture – the sector which has been most impacted by extremes of rain and drought – is yet to benefit from strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Entire agricultural sub-sectors are in decline. In 2008, banana exports ceased due to the damage caused by years of consecutive storms. Farmers were too broke to bounce back, and it is the same story in the coffee industry.

At the same time, the second national communication on climate change, which guides climate change policy, identifies agriculture as “one of the key economic sectors in Jamaica”. The document warns that changes in temperature, rainfall and atmospheric carbon dioxide are likely to affect production.

Jamaica’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change can only be exacerbated by its inability to finance maintenance and repairs to its infrastructure and lack of knowledge in communities. It is why community engagement and awareness have been central pillars in the adaptation works now being undertaken, Headley said.

But despite a high level of knowledge among Jamaicans, a staggering 73 percent have no insurance on their homes, a Knowledge and Attitude Survey undertaken by the Meteorological Service found.

Both the Forestry Department and the National Environment and Planning Authority (NEPA) – the agency responsible for environmental protection – have formed community-based groups that they say are critical to the success of the mitigation process.

This includes programmes to encourage community-level management, and to find and fund alternate “livelihood activities” for those who live off the resources, NEPA’s director of Policy and Planning Anthony McKenzie told IPS.

Come next January, the Forestry Department will add three Local Forest Management Committees to the eight already in existence.

“These communities will become legal entities for primarily management and protection of the forest,” Headley said.

The consequences of Jamaica’s lack of preparedness were dramatically illustrated earlier this year, when one day before the start of the 2011 hurricane season the road network buckled under eight days of heavy rains. Already seriously damaged by more than 12 extreme weather events in five years, bridges and roadways collapsed, threatening lives, homes and marooning communities.

Drains overgrown by weeds and made useless by debris, and the walls of the gullies – built to carry water from the interior – broke up from decades of neglect, resulting in widespread flooding, property damage and loss of income.

An assessment of 900 communities by the Jamaican authorities at the start of 2011 found that 310 were highly vulnerable to natural disasters, Ronald Jackson, the island’s disaster response chief, said in June.

Jackson, who heads the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), blamed “poor development practises” which, he said had retarded development by continuously shifting resources to the provision of relief and reconstruction.

“We can no longer use the very limited resources to chase the purchase of relief supplies for the large number of persons who reside in vulnerable conditions. We need to look at reducing the number of people in the country who are vulnerable,” he said.

Technocrats say that preparation for climate change here means fortifying communities against natural disasters, formulating strategies, and educating citizens on how to deal with the effects of these events.

International organisations have funded a range of initiatives to help local communities better prepare themselves. At the national level, there are efforts to “mainstream” climate change into government policies.

Forestry and coastal protection are two of the areas being funded by a European Union grant to increase resilience and reduce natural hazard risks in vulnerable areas.

The 4.13-million-euro project will, among other things fund institutional strengthening for climate change adaptation and risk reduction projects across eight agencies and ministries.

Already in its first year, the 30-month project is being managed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ).

Among the government agencies, NEPA is charged with shoring up the island’s natural coastal protection systems and protecting biodiversity, while the Forestry Department, which manages the state- controlled forest areas, will rehabilitate watersheds and bolster the management and protection of forests.

To carry out its mandate, NEPA is overhauling its processes to include policies that highlight climate change issues, McKenzie told IPS.

Some examples include replanting sea grass beds and mangrove forests, reducing pollution, and ensuring that its guidelines promote sustainable use of the natural environment.

In Portland Cottage, a fishing village on Jamaica’s south coast, NEPA has worked with the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation to plant more than 3,000 mangrove seedlings along the coast, to fortify the community’s coastal defense.

According to reports, in 2004, thousands of lives were saved because the mangroves prevented storm surges associated with Hurricane Ivan from destroying homes in that community.

NEPA and Panos Caribbean are also collaborating on climate change through education in the communities of Portland Cottage and Mocho “to lessen the gap” between policy and the transmission of information, Panos’s regional director of media, Indi Maclymont Lafayette, told IPS.

“The policymakers are doing a good job trying to get the region prepared for the impacts of climate change but more needs to be done to share the information with the most vulnerable sectors and persons in the region to ensure that they are also prepared for the impacts,” she said.

*This article is one of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.