A new report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is warning that climate change is expected to increase the intensity and frequency of droughts in the Caribbean. And it’s therefore urging countries of the region to enhance their capabilities to deal with this and other extreme weather- related challenges to ensure food security and hunger eradication.
The Caribbean already experiences drought-like events every year, with low water availability often impacting on agriculture and water resources, and a significant number of bush fires.
The region also experiences intense dry seasons particularly in years when El Niño climate events are present. The impacts of this are usually offset by the next wet season, but wet seasons often end early and dry seasons last longer with the result that annual rainfall is less than expected, the FAO noted.
“Drought ranks as the single most common cause of severe food shortages in developing countries, so this is a key issue for Caribbean food security”, said Deep Ford, FAO Regional Coordinator in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean region accounts for seven of the world’s top 36 waterstressed countries, while one of them, Barbados, is in the top 10. FAO defines countries like Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis as water-scarce with less than 1,000 cubic metres (m3) of freshwater resources per capita.
The FAO said that with droughts becoming more seasonal in nature in the Caribbean, agriculture is the most likely sector to be impacted, with serious economic and social consequences.
Between 1970 and 2000, the region suffered direct and indirect losses estimated at between US $700 million and US $3.3 billion due to natural disasters associated with weather and climate events.
But the FAO pointed out that so far, the region has focused mainly on floods and storms, and it currently lacks effective governance, expertise and financial resources to deal effectively with drought issues.
“It also has poor national coordination, policy-making and planning in place. While many regional and national programmes have developed responses to build resilience against the impacts of drought, too many of these are still only in a drafting phase, or are poorly implemented and in need of review,” it noted.
The FAO report noted how the severity of the 2009-2010 drought – the worst in over 40 years – served as an alarm bell for the Caribbean.
“The event forced the region to consider, particularly in light of climate change projections, the need to introduce more strategic planning and management measures to avert the potential disaster that would result by end of the century from a drier Caribbean region,” it said.
Three significant frameworks for drought management in the region have been put into place: the Comprehensive Disaster Management Strategic Framework, the Caribbean Community Caricom Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to Climate Change: 2011-2021, and the Jagdeo Initiative. In addition, the Caribbean Drought and Precipitation Monitoring Network (CDPMN) was also established in 2009.
However, the most pressing need is for countries to develop strong national initiatives, the FAO said. According to the report, policy-making and planning related to drought is hindered by weak governance, lack of finance and poorly coordinated land management.
“These can be overcome by strong political will that encourages participation in policy and planning processes by all actors in the social strata, enabling the sustainable development of water supplies to face the upcoming challenges,” Ford advised.