In 2008, Haiti faced four major tropical storms affecting nearly 250,000 people. These events caused flash floods and mudslides that led to loss of life and the destruction of homes, crops and infrastructure--including the Ennery Bridge in northern Haiti.
The bridge was crucial to humanitarian relief, recovery efforts, markets and tourism services in surrounding areas. To replace this critical piece of infrastructure, USAID provided engineering design support to build a more climate-resilient bridge.
During the engineering design process, future temperature, precipitation and other environmental conditions were projected over the expected project life span to help ensure continued operations under extreme conditions Where there was uncertainty with or gaps in data sets, engineers incorporated factors of safety in the design to ensure sustainability and reduce the risk of failure. The result of the design process was a more rugged and climate resilient bridge. Only two months after its completion, the bridge was put to the test and successfully withstood a tropical storm.
As of October 1, 2016 USAID will manage climate risk for all of its new projects and activities. Engineering design of infrastructure is climate risk management. Under USAID’s climate risk management approach, all infrastructure activities require engineering design.
USAID engineer Jacob Greenstein, who worked on this and other such projects in the Caribbean, says “I have always considered climate change in engineering.” He advised that infrastructure development requires using precipitation and temperature forecasts, as well as projected changes to soil stability and vegetation to help inform our understanding of climate risks.
Similar to Haiti, Dominica has experienced more intense and longer storm surges in the recent past that have threatened lives and livelihoods and eroded and damaged coastal areas. In 2015, during Tropical Storm Erika, twelve inches of rain fell in less than twenty-four hours. This resulted in widespread flooding that affected nearly 29,000 people in communities across the island. Storm damages cost an estimated $500 million— 90% of Dominica’s annual gross domestic product.
Yet in the coastal community of Mero residents were not displaced or severely impacted by the storm. In the months before the storm, USAID supported work with the community to identify infrastructure improvements which could make the community more resilient to potential impacts of climate change.
Based on community priorities, USAID invested in drainage infrastructure. Hillside ravines were cleared, and roadside and hillside drainage structures were built to divert floodwater away from the community. The project also included construction of silt and rock traps to reduce damage from heavy rains and the rehabilitation of sections of a deteriorated seawall.
A relatively small investment of $300,000 in improved drainage, successfully reduced vulnerability and prevented damage and possibly loss of lives. Damages from this one storm would likely have been far more than the $300,000 investment of USAID.
These two examples of infrastructure development demonstrate how investment in planning and engineering design, that is considerate of future climate conditions, can result in more resilient infrastructure outcomes. Cost-effective and affordable maintenance plans were essential to their success, as well.
In the Caribbean, climate change has significantly impacted countries like Haiti and Dominica. In both countries, USAID-led design efforts have saved lives, safeguarded livelihoods and investments, and made communities more resilient to climate change.
This blog was first published on Climatelinks on September 30, 2016 and is being re-posted to provide context and complement forthcoming new blogs on climate risk management.
Climatelinks is a global knowledge portal for USAID staff, implementing partners, and the broader community working at the intersection of climate change and international development. The portal curates and archives technical guidance and knowledge related to USAID’s work to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.