Is Paris our last hope for survival?

Traffic was terrible last Friday while the remnants of Tropical Storm Grace were passing through Barbados. As I was sitting for hours in the rain, I had more than enough time to think about how Dominica was decimated by a mere storm and also how the island’s development was set back 20 years, according to their Prime Minister, the Honourable Roosevelt Skerritt, in his address to the nation.

This is of course not the first time a storm or an even weaker system has destroyed parts of our islands. Storms and low pressure systems have been thrashing our behinds for a while now. I think back to Tropical Storm Tomas in 2010. It snuck up on Barbados in late October and wreaked a bit of havoc. It felled trees, destroyed houses, caused flooding and made roads impassable.

Furthermore, just 3 years later, an out-of-season trough affected a now recovering St. Lucia and St. Vincent on Christmas Eve. It shows that as soon as you get back on your feet, you can be knocked down again when you least expect it. I had only just left a workshop in St. Lucia a few days before the event. While on a field trip, I spoke to a farmer who said he had just recovered from Tomas and he showed me his bountiful harvest. When I contacted him after the trough, he said his field was once again wiped out and he needed to restart for the second time. This was his livelihood and I doubt it will be the last time disaster strikes.

While inching forward every 20 minutes or so I also thought about Loss and Damage and if it was on the table for the region. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are indeed most vulnerable to climate change effects. They are also susceptible to sea level rise especially since most of the inhabitants live in low-lying coastal areas. The administrative offices in Barbados are located just a few metres from the sea and our electricity comes mainly from a coastal plant. Let us not forget the droughts that we have had and in the words of Bob Marley, ‘You ain’t gonna miss your water until your well runs dry’. Lastly, the insanely unusually hot weeks we have been having. These effects not only affect the economy but our health and well-being.

I am elated though about the unity and swift action this region has displayed so far with aid swarming into Dominica daily. Countries are individually raising money, collecting food stuff and sending rescue personnel to help our neighbour out.

As a young climate change advocate, I have to applaud the work of youth organisations such as the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) which help to raise the awareness of the region’s young citizens about climate change impacts. Additionally, the Action/2015 global campaign which aims to mobilise regular citizens worldwide to address climate change, inequalities and poverty.

Conversely, commitments from larger and richer G8 countries to reduce their emissions and provide funds for adaptation and mitigation projects are necessary for our survival. It seems that climate change negotiations so far are going as slowly as this traffic. Will there be an agreement that satisfies the needs of the Caribbean SIDS? We can only hope.

In the meantime, I would suggest that community vulnerability studies be done for each country to map the most vulnerable areas to different disasters. In this way we can be better prepared for disasters like Erika.

 

Dirty behaviours hamper our resilience

Aedes Egypti mosquito carries several diseases
Aedes Egypti mosquito carries several diseases

Late last year, a virus plagued the region. Like the dengue fever, chikungunya, dubbed Chik-V, is transmitted via the tiny terrors: mosquitoes. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus, is no stranger to our tropical islands since the dengue emergence in the 1990’s. The Chik-V epidemic threatened the health of thousands of Caribbean people and also the regional economies.

Firstly, 2014, was the hottest year ever recorded in the history of temperature records, according to a January 2015 British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report. We all felt the seemingly ‘extended summer’ which ran from June through September until early November. When it was normally supposed to be getting cooler, it seemed like summer never ended. That time was also the wet season for the region. These two factors spelt perfect conditions for the mosquitoes to breed and multiply.

From around September, the first cases of the virus were reported. Persons were getting flu-like symptoms but with so many different side effects, no one really knew the difference. Some symptoms included rashes, joint pains, fever, fatigue and some persons were also even hospitalised. The virus was also rumoured to stay within affected persons for up to six months.  Thousands of persons, elderly, children, teachers, doctors, persons from all walks of life, were all simultaneously falling ill to this virus.

Due to this epidemic, so many persons of the working force were home on sick leave for several months that led to a tremendous decrease in productivity in the country. This also caused persons to spend more of their income on healthcare for months. What about those without health insurance or depended on work hours for their main income earner for their families? As cases increased, almost everyone knew someone affected by the virus.

Additionally, for tourism-based economies like most Caribbean territories are, having a rampant virus is a public relations nightmare. Persons would not want to visit a country where their health may be in jeopardy and can therefore cause a decline in the number of tourists. One American celebrity, Lindsay Lohan, actually contracted the disease but announced it via social media, to her millions of followers. The governments had to be working hard to reduce the damage this would cause.

Subsequently, widespread media campaigns were done by the governments to raise awareness of the virus and featured preventative measures. While, this is largely a behavioural problem through improper waste disposal methods such as littering and illegal dumping (which may lead to increased breeding sites), climate change does have some part to play. According to leading climate scientists, and observed records, temperatures are increasing and precipitation is becoming more unpredictable. Increasing temperatures can also extend the areas in which mosquitoes can survive. This means that mosquitoes may be found higher up mountains than before in the Caribbean context.

While we are quite happy that the epidemic is now quite diminished, there is also the possibility of a new terrible strain of the virus or the re-emergence of an old one. Another potentially dangerous virus which popped up is the Zika Virus, in which a case was reported in Brazil in May of this year. This is only less than a year after the Chik-V epidemic. Too close to comfort? Climate change is happening whether we like it or not so let’s not make matters worse by littering. Will the CARICOM be ready for another virus of epidemic proportions? Will our people take their health more seriously and not add to their vulnerability? Let’s clean up our act now before it’s too late.