News Date: October 20 2016
Should Barbados fear economic fallout from the recent drought?
The Caribbean region faces significant challenges in terms of drought. It has focused mainly on floods and storms, and so currently lacks effective governance, human resource capacity, and finance, and has poor national coordination, policymaking, and planning in place to deal effectively with drought issues.
The Caribbean accounts for seven of the world’s top 36 water-stressed countries. Barbados is in the top ten.
Climate change is expected to increase mean temperatures with more warm days and warm nights, with significantly more warming at night.
Annual rainfall is expected to decline by the end of this century, particularly during the wet season. The combined effect of higher temperatures, associated increase in evaporation, and less rainfall means that the Caribbean is likely to experience more intense and frequent droughts.
Recent trends in temperature are consistent with these projections. However, changes in rainfall are less consistent with only weak positive trends in intensity, particularly daily intensity. So the projection of declining rainfall is not yet being experienced.
The alternating wet and dry seasons mean that the region already experiences drought-like events every year, often with low water availability impacting agriculture and water resources, and a significant number of bush fires.
But the Caribbean also experiences intense dry seasons particularly in years with El Niño events. The impacts 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.
With droughts being more seasonal in nature in the Caribbean, agriculture is the most likely sector to be impacted by drought with serious economic and social consequences.
This is particularly so since the majority of Caribbean agriculture is rain-fed. The agriculture sector responds to the conditions by reduced crop yields, and premature death and low productivity in livestock and poultry.
Even a dry spell of 7-10 days can result in a reduction of yield, depending on crop stage, soil texture and depth, plant health and other environmental conditions. All these factors can influence the livelihoods of farmers.
With irrigation use becoming more widespread in the Caribbean, a country’s fresh water supply becomes increasingly important, along with volume, accessibility and ultimately management.
Policymaking and planning are hindered by weak governance, poor national coordination, lack of capacity, weak coordinated land management, lack of finance, and user conflicts.
However, these can be overcome by strong political will that encourages participation in policy and planning processes by all actors in the social strata from community groups, who determine how resilient systems can be, to the political directorate that provides the enabling environment for sustainable development of water supplies and its efficient use.
A careful study of how these actors interact with the water resources systems can offer key insights into building resilience in the widely varying Caribbean communities and particularly in agricultural systems that would enhance regional food security.