Caught Up in the Opportunities of Climate Change and Less So With Adaptation

CDEMA Executive Director Ronald Jackson.

By
Desmond Brown

BRIDGETOWN,
Barbados, Wednesday March 6, 2019 (IPS) 
– Caribbean countries have been signalling their
willingness to dedicate time and resources to implement and sustain effective
multi-hazard early warning systems.

Most
countries located in the hurricane belt face being impacted during the yearly
Atlantic Hurricane Season. But all Caribbean countries face another challenge—climate change

Ronald
Jackson, Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA),
told IPS in an interview that the ambitions around establishing strong early
warning systems in the Caribbean date back to the early 2000s.

But he
said, “it still remains incipient, despite the fact that there has been some
level of investment in the area over time.”

“I think
Jamaica would have been the farthest advanced way back in the 90s with the Rio
Cobre warning system which included a community warning infrastructure as well
as telemetre gauges linked to the met offices and to the National Disaster
Management Office,” he said

Jackson
believes countries “have gotten more caught up . . . in the opportunities of
climate change . . . and less so with advancing what is considered to be
adaptation.”

The CDEMA
head said his unit has been working with its partners to look at framing a
common vision, recognising the need for a more comprehensive investment in
establishing people-centred early warning systems at national level.

“We have so
far delivered a solutions package for four of our members—Antigua
& Barbuda, Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the
Grenadines—looking at their gaps and using that to define the
priority areas for investment to establish these early warning systems.”

Excerpts of
the interview follow:

Inter
Press Service (IPS): What is the state of early warning systems in the
Caribbean?

Ronald
Jackson (RJ): We are trying to implement interventions around an integrated
early warning systems agenda in all our 18 states by 2024, which is the sort of
end cycle of this particular strategy. We’ve broken that up into bite size
amounts from the point of view of how we are going to try to attract investments
at a specific juncture over the life of that strategy, but by 2024 certainly to
address the needs of the 18 [Caribbean Community] CARICOM member states as it
relates to integrated people-centred early warning systems.

In
Guyana for example, they don’t have hurricanes, but they do have flood issues
which would require them looking at a flood warning system that is linked to
tropical cyclonic events. A country not faced with challenges related to
significant flood events may also want to look at their tsunami warning
systems. So, we are targeting having a full system in each of our states by
2024.

IPS:
What, if anything, would you like to see countries do differently?

RJ:
We have gotten more caught up I would think in the opportunities of climate
change, which is really the energy aspect of it, and less so with advancing
what is considered to be adaptation. There is more of a heavier occupation on
the opportunities of climate, which is good.

The
opportunities are in the area of renewable energy and how best we can
capitalise on that and I think it is a necessary process that we must embark on
and embark on fully because of the benefits to be derived.

You
can reduce the cost of energy, allowing you to release additional resources
into areas of resilience building—one of which is early warning. But the area
which is categorised as adaptation in climate change, which is where you will
see people use the language more around risk reduction and prevention, is an
area that has not gotten the same level of focus as the climate mitigation
aspect which is where you look at clean energy, reductions of emissions and so
on. That for us is where the greatest threat is. The human security
element of climate change is where we should be focusing heavily because we’re
talking about people being displaced. You’re talking about floods, you’re
talking about the loss of livelihoods. That’s where the greatest threat for
Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and in fact any developing
island nation, lies. They have to face the challenge of having limited land
masses and resources and having that constantly being impacted by the changing
climatic conditions—sea level rise, saline intrusion, water scarcity, flood
conditions and other environmental and health related issues—all aligned to
climate change.

IPS:
Given the challenges Caribbean countries have been facing, could it be that
there still exists some misconception regarding adaptation?

RJ:
As it relates to adaptation, we seem to think a lot of the interventions
required are new. They are not new, we’ve been grappling with those things that
are packaged under the theme of adaptation for some time. These are largely
programme areas at national level which if you look at the analysis they have
never, in my mind, in the last 20 years or decade or so received very strong
budget allocations. That’s what the analysis is showing us. There could be a
lot of questions or reasoning around that. It could be how countries determine
what are the main priorities of the day given the limited resources and the
fiscally strangling environment in which they are operating.

IPS:
Which takes us to the issue of funding. As is the case with almost
everything else, procuring funds is an issue. What has been the experience of
countries getting funds for sustaining Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems?

RJ: There is programme support from international sources. The challenge there is that it’s been ad-hoc—either financing one element or two elements of the four elements of people-centred early warning. Part of it is also sustainability because there are different elements that exist. The problem also is, can you maintain the infrastructure? Can you replace the parts in a timely manner? So, there is also a sort of maintenance issue that is linked to budget allocation.

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