Thursday, January 2, 2014

Caribbean on receiving end of effects of climate change

Carrie Gibson in the Gulf Times: As tens of thousands people suffered through a flooded and powerless Christmas in Britain, 8,000km away unexpected weather was also unleashing havoc on the Caribbean. Torrential rains on Christmas Eve, with 15in falling in 24 hours, led to dramatic floods and landslides that washed through St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica. So far eight people in St Vincent and five in St Lucia have died, water and electricity are down and thousands of properties have been damaged. The clean-up bill is expected to be in the millions.

The crisis cut short the holiday of the prime minister of St Vincent, Ralph Gonsalves, who happened to be in storm-hit London, after a trip to see the Pope in Rome. Gonsalves whose cousin was killed in a landslide during the rains said it was “a disaster of a proportion the likes of which we have not seen in living memory.” The secretary general of the Organisation of American States, Jos Miguel Insulza, also noted the “unreasonable nature” of the rains, and said “the flooding raises once again the impact of climate change in the Caribbean region.”

Many years ago, during a rainy spell in Britain, a South African colleague at my office grumbled that Britain didn’t have a climate it only had weather. I chuckled at the time, but it seems that this now goes well beyond the UK. Unmoored from what usually happens during a given season, we are increasingly vulnerable to the brutal force of extreme weather events at short notice.

The Caribbean’s climate does involve a rainy period - it is part of the hurricane season, which starts around June and usually lasts until around mid to late November. The 2013 hurricane season was the quietest in 30 years, with only two storms, and they did not even reach an intensity of category three or above. With regards to these recent rains, public opinion appears to agree with Gonsalves: these downpours were unprecedented...

Hurricane Irene seen from Cuba in 2011, shot by Superikonoskop, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

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