Lessons for Jamaica from a $ 1 Billion Drought

Lessons for Jamaica from a $ 1 Billion Drought

By Desmond Brown

"The disparity between the very rich and the very poor in Jamaica means that those living in poverty or extreme poverty, female heads of households with many children and the elderly suffer a great disadvantage in this period," said Judith Wedderburn, project director at this country of the German foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES).

"The concern is that as the consequences of climate change extend for several years, this type of situation, such as greater floods with periods of extreme drought, will become increasingly extreme," he said.

Wedderburn, who spoke with IPS in the framework of a workshop for journalists organized by FES and Panos Caribe earlier this month, said that the countries of this region, which already have only a limited space for food production, now have the additional challenge of coping with episodes of extreme rainfall or droughts due to climate change.

"In Jamaica, we had several months of drought and that affected the most important food producing parishes (political division)," he explained, adding that the problem does not end with the end of the drought.

“We are affected by the extremes of rainfall that lead to floods. Agricultural communities lose their crops during droughts and families suffer the impact, ”he continued.

“Food production is disrupted and the cost of food rises, making it even more difficult for the many already poor families to access affordable local products, contributing to food insecurity; in other words, people do not easily access the products necessary for the family to be well fed, "he added.

Dale Rankine, a doctoral candidate from the University of the West Indies, predicts that the situation could get worse. Climate change models suggest that the region will become drier between the middle and the end of the century, he told IPS.

“We see projections that suggest that we may have a 40 percent or more decrease in the amount of rainfall, especially in the summer months. These usually coincide with the typical rainy season, ”Rankine noted.

“This is particularly important because it will have a special impact on food security. There are also indications that we may experience a higher frequency of droughts and floods, and this great variability will surely harm crops ”, he stressed.

He also noted an “interesting pattern” of increased rainfall in the central regions, but only in the outer regions, while in the west and east there was a decrease in rainfall.

"That is very interesting because the most important sites for food security, especially the parishes of Saint Elizabeth and Manchester, for example, experience a decrease in the average rainfall and that has consequences on how productive our producing regions are going to be" Rankine noted.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States (NOAA, in English) announced that September of this year was the warmest in the 135 years of record. That month, the average global temperature was 15.72 degrees, making it the record four-month period, along with May, June and August.

According to NOAA's National Climate Data Center, the first nine months of 2014 saw average global temperatures of 14.78 degrees, competing with 1998 for the first nine warmest months.

Jamaica's Minister of Climate Change, Environment, Water and Land, Robert Pickersgill, said that more than 18,000 small farmers suffered the impact of the current extreme drought that this country has suffered for months.

Agriculture lost nearly $ 1 billion to drought and wildfires caused by extreme heat.

Pickersgill said reduced rainfall significantly reduced the flow of water from streams and rivers at various facilities around the country.

“Preliminary rainfall data for last June indicates that Jamaica received 30 percent less rainwater than usual and all parishes except parts of Westmoreland (54 percent) received less than half of what they normally receive. ”, He indicated.

"The southern parishes of Saint Elizabeth, Manchester, Clarendon, Saint Catherine, Kingston and Saint Andrew and Saint Thomas, along with Saint Mary and Portland were the most affected," he said.

Clarendon, he said, received just two percent of normal rainfall, followed by Manchester, with four percent, Saint Thomas, with six percent, Saint Mary, with eight percent, and Kingston and Saint Andrew, with 12 percent.

In addition, Pickersgill said that the water inflow to the Mona Reservoir from the Yallahs and Negro rivers is currently 18.7 million liters per day, the lowest volume since the construction of the Yallahs pipeline in 1986.

Meanwhile, the entrance to the Hermitage dam stands at 22.7 million liters per day, below the more than 68 million liters per day in the wet season.

“It is clear to me that the scientific evidence that climate change is a clear and current danger is stronger than ever. For this reason, the need to mitigate and adapt to its consequences is even greater, and that is why I often say that with climate change we also have to change, ”Pickersgill told IPS.

Jamaica needs to take immediate action to adapt to climate change, agreed FES's Wedderburn.

“The challenge for the government is to explore what type of adaptation can serve to teach farmers to improve water harvesting so that in periods of severe drought, they can continue to grow crops and sell their production at reasonable prices as a way to cope with the food insecurity ”, he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp / Translated by Verónica Firme

Inter Press Service - IPS Venezuela

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