Hurricane Maria devastated parts of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, including Dominica shown here, in September 2017. The Category 5 hurricane was the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Hurricane Maria devastated parts of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, including Dominica shown here, in September 2017. The Category 5 hurricane was the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Building Resilience in a Climate Change Hotspot

By Wendy Putnam

Countries in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean have always been vulnerable to natural hazards, but climate change trends project that disasters—hurricanes, tropical storms, flash floods, drought, and extreme heat—are becoming more frequent, intense, costly, and time-consuming to recover from. Events like these cost an estimated $27 billion in damages and losses in the region between 2000 and 2017. This enormous toll on the economies of Caribbean countries means that the region struggles to move beyond disaster preparedness and response, and toward achieving long-term resilience. 

Based on an extensive review of key studies and consultations with 65 regional and national stakeholders and donors, the USAID Eastern and Southern Caribbean (ESC) Mission conducted a resilience assessment to inform its 2020-2025 Regional Development Cooperation Strategy. A significant component of the strategy will focus on building the resilience of ESC countries. The assessment considers the region as a whole while focusing on six countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago. This assessment provides a nuanced understanding of current and future risks, identifies key gaps, and makes recommendations for strengthening regional resilience. 

Countries in the ESC region are diverse in geography, size, economy, and culture. Each country’s institutions and communities also vary in their capacity to prepare for and recover from hazards. While they vary in degrees of severity, countries in the region experience a range of hazards, from hurricanes and droughts to volcanoes and earthquakes. Trinidad and Tobago and Saint Lucia, for example, often experience rainfall-induced landslides due to their mountainous terrains. While crops in Grenada are encountering new emerging diseases associated with a warming climate, Barbados and Guyana are facing saltwater intrusion and lower rainfall coupled with excessive pumping of groundwater, which reduces the water available for irrigation.

Despite these differences, the assessment identifies seven shared resilience challenges—five focused on integrating resilience across systems and sectors, and two related to citizen and community resilience.

The assessment also outlines the ways climate hazards directly and indirectly impact communities and key sectors, such as energy, agriculture and fisheries, water, tourism, biodiversity, and natural resources. It also looks at the impacts, both direct and indirect, of human-induced stressors on these communities and sectors.

A significant number of families in the region are unable to invest in preparedness and resiliency measures, such as “hurricane-proofing” their homes. When disaster strikes, they have no insurance to repair the damage. In addition, most governments lack the capacity and resources to make up for the shortfall. Tourism is already impacted by the annual hurricane season and will be increasingly affected as natural resources, such as beaches and coral reefs, deteriorate with climate impacts. As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, when tourists stop visiting, the ripple effects on ESC economies and livelihoods are profound.

In addition to considering the ability of ESC countries to withstand and recover from extreme hazards such as hurricanes, which is catalogued in country profiles linked below, the assessment explores the degree to which communities can move beyond recovery to build a more resilient society long-term.

Blue economy, a term used to describe the sustainable use of ocean resources, offers huge potential to Caribbean countries. Harnessing the blue economy can generate new sources of jobs and diversify the economy and new ocean industries, such as sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and marine renewable energy. Other blue economy examples are offshore renewable energy sources that mitigate carbon emissions, including wind, tidal, wave, algal biofuel, and thermal. And the restoration of vegetated coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrass beds, provides protection from erosion and flooding. Turning these new opportunities into productive sectors will require investment into research and development, building of technical capacity, strengthening of institutions, and creating an environment to attract and maintain outside investment. 

Future generations are the key to resilience in the region Since youth are the source of leadership, advocacy, and human capacity, engaging and empowering youth is one of the assessment’s key recommendations. Whether by involving youth in resilience planning and emergency response or mobilizing them to address climate change and risks, it is vital that they are engaged in the early stages of resilience planning. It is also critical to train them in the skills and technologies that support resilience building, such as renewable energy technology, climate-smart agriculture, and education in science, engineering, and planning. This approach can help tackle the islands’ high youth unemployment rate while at the same time fill critical gaps in disaster preparedness, response, and reconstruction.

Learn more about identified gaps and recommendations for the resilience in the ESC region in the individual resilience profiles for Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Coastal, Disaster Risk Management, Infrastructure, Monitoring and Evaluation, Resilience, Water and Sanitation
Latin America & Caribbean
Wendy Putnam Headshot

Wendy Putnam

Wendy Putnam is a Senior Communications Specialist working at Environmental Incentives.

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