Hurricanes expose governments’ decades of negligence


The full title of this article is “Hurricanes expose governments’ decades of negligence in Caribbean climate change preparedness.” Freeman Rogers, Omaya Sosa Pascual, and Emmanuel Estrada López (Center for Investigative Journalism, April 10, 2018) present an eye-opening account of recent devastation, weak climate change preparedness, and the ongoing issues with specific examples from Puerto Rico, British Virgin Islands, United States Virgin Islands, Dominica, Barbuda, and Saint Martin. Here are excerpts; please read the full article at Caribbean Business. [Don’t miss the video on effects of erosion in Rincón, Puerto Rico.]

Like much of the British Virgin Islands, the popular seaside village was devastated by winds, waves and flooding when the center of Hurricane Irma passed directly over the territory on Sept. 6. Eighty nautical miles to the west, Alexis Correa feels the same way. Although they do not know each other, they speak different languages and their governments are unrelated, he has also seen firsthand what the fury of a Category 4 hurricane is capable of doing to a small, vulnerable island. When hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico with its 155-mile-per-hour winds on Sept. 20 it swept away roofs, structures, bridges and roads all over the island.

But Correa has been watching a prelude to this destruction in his community for more than a decade. The ocean first claimed the social and cultural center of his Parcelas Suárez neighborhood in the municipality of Loíza. Then Hurricane Maria swept away the basketball court and the park. The places were an integral part of this community, one stricken by poverty, criminality, discrimination and limited social mobility, and its destruction has left residents with practically no options.

“Here the community board and residents used to meet, but we also used to celebrate weddings and ‘quinceañeros’,” Correa said as he looked at the ruins of the building, which also served as a childcare center before it was closed in 2002 because of the damage caused by erosion. “We moved to the court and the park, but Maria destroyed them. Now we don’t have a place to meet.”

In St. Croix, organic farmer Luca Gasperi is similarly distraught, but not surprised: He believes the back-to-back September storms that hit his native United States Virgin Islands (USVI) were consistent with other weather patterns that he had been noticing for years.

“Everything is more intense,” he said as his wife Christina sold produce on a Saturday afternoon at the 40-acre farm they operate on his parents’ land. Then he ticked off a list of evidence: A lengthy drought struck in 2015, rainstorms have been heavier, and for the first time in more than a decade of farming he suddenly is unable to grow broccoli. Another hurricane, he added, could be the last straw. [. . .]

Henley, Correa and Gasperi blame rapid climate change due to global warming and government inaction for greatly exacerbating their islands’ losses, and they worry that the ocean and extreme weather events like Irma and Maria will continue to expose the fragility of their islands’ infrastructure and flawed construction practices. Their stories are a snapshot of how climate change is not only eroding the coasts of these territories and other Caribbean islands, but actively destroying community life and economic activity in plain sight with little to no governmental action to protect citizens, according to a regional investigation by the Center for Investigative Journalism and half a dozen Caribbean media outlets.

Experts agree. Ramón Bueno, coauthor of one of the few existing studies on climate change in the Caribbean, said the scientific community agrees that the hotter air in the atmosphere caused by global warming carries more humidity that elevates the sea level and provokes stronger storms, with more rain and higher surges. These were among the conclusions of the most recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), published in November 2014. The IPCC, where more than 2,000 scientists from 195 member countries collaborate, is the world’s primary source of scientific information on climate change and its effects.

[. . .] In the coastal town of Rincon, in the north Puerto Rico, Julián Rodríguez knew that in ten years many things could happen, but he didn’t see that the two family beach apartments — an investment of over $400,000 — could be destroyed overnight. During Hurricane Maria the sea undermined the foundations of Rincon Ocean Club II, a three-story condominium next to the beach, and his dream became salt and water, literally.

[. . .] Ten years ago Ramón Bueno and his colleagues at Tufts GDEI — Cornelia Herzfeld, Elizabeth A. Stanton and Frank Ackerman — saw this coming. In their 2008 study The Caribbean and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction, they warned that the two dozen island nations and territories of the Caribbean with their 40 million inhabitants were especially vulnerable to the effects of global warming though they have contributed little to the release of the greenhouse gases that drive the phenomenon.

The researchers looked at optimistic and pessimistic scenarios based on a study developed by IPCC, analyzing average hurricane damages, tourism losses and infrastructure damages due to sea-level rises from hurricanes, and projected $22 billion in losses to the Caribbean’s economy by year 2050 or 10% of the region’s Gross Domestic Product. Nonetheless, individual projections of losses vary much from island to island, with some in the range of 40% and Haiti at the top with 61%.

“As ocean levels rise, the smallest, low-lying islands may disappear under the waves. As temperatures rise and storms become more severe, tourism — the life-blood of many Caribbean economies — will shrink and with it both private incomes and the public tax revenues that support education, social services, and infrastructure,” the scientists said. Now, concrete impact of rising sea levels and temperatures and extreme weather events is not a future projection, but a tough reality. In places like Puerto Rico, BVI, USVI, Dominica, Panama, Dominican Republic, and Haiti, CPI’s regional investigation documented ongoing floods, population displacement, significant loss of the shoreline, and impacts on tourism businesses that are already happening.

Palominito island, a popular tourism spot for boaters off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, has almost disappeared.

Recent hurricanes have dramatically exacerbated coastal erosion and exposed the fragility of infrastructure and the potentially deadly impact on populations of the worst hit islands: Puerto Rico, BVI, USVI, Dominica, Barbuda and Saint Martin. [. . .]

[Rincón, Puerto Rico (Photo by Leandro Fabrizi Ríos, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo).]

For full article, see

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