News & Current Affairs, CARICOM Affairs - Saturday, March 6, 2010 8:46
Region in drought: the thirsty CaribbeanBy Antillean, News Desk
The countries of the Caribbean from Jamaica in the North to Trinidad in the South are facing the worst drought in decades. Throughout March, the Antillean will cover the water crisis in the region, causes, complications and the regional response.
Caribbean countries are considering options like desalination plants and cloud seeding to confront a drought that threatens the regional economy and which experts warned about years ago.
In St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, they are warning of prosecution, including jail time, if consumers violate measures introduced to curb the use of water other than for drinking, cooking and bathing.
In a paper presented in a 2007 conference in Barbados, entitled “Coping with Drought in the Caribbean,” expert Bano Mehdi, cited scientific warnings about this drought, noting that “more intense and longer droughts have been observed over wide areas since the 1970s.”
From Trinidad and Tobago in the south, to Jamaica in the north, governments are implementing water rationing to deal with a drastic decline in capacity in the reservoirs. Some, like Guyana, are pumping a significant amount of money to help farmers overcome the problem.
“So far we have close to 10,000 acres of rice under stress; we have cattle, too, going through some very difficult conditions,” as well as crops under pressure in the interior of the country, said Guyana’s Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud.
“This time last year we were dealing with rainfall levels higher than the 2005 floods. The effects of climate change are hitting home very often,” Persaud added.
When the 2010 national budget was presented in mid-February, the Guyana government said it was allocating 29.4 million dollars to improve agricultural irrigation systems.
A few days later, President Bharrat Jagdeo said an additional 1.2 million dollars would be spent on efforts to confront the effects of El Niño/Southern Oscillation, the cyclical phenomenon in which warm surface waters of the equatorial Pacific flow eastward, altering weather patterns across the Americas.
“The entire apparatus of the government is focused on bringing as much relief as is humanly possible to our people across Guyana,” Jagdeo told farmers, noting that some communities are having difficulties obtaining even drinking water.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning is convinced that this drought is due the effects of climate change. His administration is looking to add to the single desalination plant to move the country away from “too-heavy reliance on surface water sources.”
“We believe it is El Niño, but it does not in any way negate our conclusion that as a result of climate change, among other things, we can experience droughts in Trinidad and Tobago,” Manning said.
According to Public Utilities Minister Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, the water levels in the reservoirs “are well below their long-term averages for this time of year.” The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has placed a ban on citizens using water to wash vehicles or water plants and lawns.
So stringent has been the measure that Manning dismissed a contractor working at his official residence after pictures were published in the newspapers showing sprinklers being used to water the lawns.
WASA regional manager Collin Nym said the outlook was bleak for 2010 because lower rainfall had exacerbated production constraints at one of the main water treatment plants and the desalination plant.
“We have a large reservoir and we did not capture as much rainfall as we anticipated. Between January and June 2009, we faced a lot of problems,” he said. “The Meteorological Office predicted that we would have 80 to 90 millimeters of rainfall for January, and we only saw five.”
The Jamaican government has hinted at the possibility of cloud seeding, which involves the use of chemicals to influence rainfall in areas where the drought is more severe.
Water Minister Horace Chang met recently with a group of experts from the University of the West Indies (UWI) to discuss the possibility of cloud seeding, but it is a very expensive option.
Authorities already had to cut a drought mitigation program due to the austerity measures required by a recently signed, multi- billion-dollar Standby Agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The scheme was expected to include the reactivation of several abandoned supply wells in Jamaica. According to Chang, the National Water Commission is losing an estimated 2.2 million dollars in revenues per month as a result of the country’s worst drought in decades.
“We have been spending more money and we have lost significant revenue… People can’t pay if they don’t get water, so we have to spend more money in terms of operational costs,” Chang said.
Corporations are also complaining.
“If the drought continues, we will definitely look to start trucking water to the different factories, but there is a cost involved in doing that,” said Omar Azan, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers Association.
In St. Lucia, the authorities issued a “Declaration of Water Related Emergency” on Feb. 24, and have warned that persons contravening the new measures could face both a fine of not less than 1,110 dollars and imprisonment of not less than six months.
Among the measures contained in the declaration is a ban on the use of water for watering of gardens, lawns, grounds and farms as well as for supplying ponds, swimming pools, “or for use other than normal domestic services such as drinking, cooking, washing, bathing and sanitation.”
Dominica, which boasts 365 rivers, has warned consumers that the drought could get worse.
Based on information from the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology, in Barbados, “we will experience severe dryness for some time to come. If it does continue… it means the water level will definitely get lower and there will not be sufficient pressure to provide water to many communities,” said Gwennie Dickson, spokesperson for Dominica’s Water and Sewerage Company.
The Antigua and Barbuda public utilities authority said that at the normal rate of consumption, the Potworks Dam wouldn’t have enough water to take the country to the end of March.
Adrian Trotman, acting chief of applied meteorology and climatology at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology, warned that countries like Barbados could experience drought conditions for a long period.
“This is the view of scientists of the Caribbean Drought and Precipitation Monitoring Network (CDPMN), who have been analyzing rainfall trends in the Caribbean since January 2009,” Trotman said in a statement.
“Water resources managers across the region are urged to implement the necessary measures to conserve water, as the drought conditions are expected to persist over the next three months,” he added.
The CDPMN, which was launched in January 2009 under the six- year Caribbean Water Initiative project, has warned that unless the precipitation situation is closely monitored, “one often does not realize that drought is upon you or is approaching – until the effects are already felt.”
This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramerica network. Tierramerica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank. (c) NoticiasFinancieras – Inter Press Services – All rights reserved. Copyright (c) 2010 IPS.
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