Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Heading to boiling point - Regional climatologist says Caribbean to get hotter, may lead to heat stress

Published:Wednesday | June 1, 2016 | 6:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
Cedric Van Meerbeeck, climatologist at the Caribbean Institute of Meteorologist and Hydrology (CIMH) based in Barbados

Roseau, Dominica:

WITH DATA showing that the world is getting hotter, governments across the Caribbean are being warned to seriously plan for the impact of heat stress on their populations.

A predominantly tropical climate environment, heat is no stranger to the Caribbean, but the forecast is that it is heading to boiling point, where it will one day become unbearable, making the region more vulnerable to the impact of heat stress.

"Heat is something we are familiar with in the Caribbean, but every year in September, people are feeling much hotter. Our data are showing that in the last 50 years, the very warmest days have become warmer, the very warmest nights have become warmer. And they have also become more frequent, more earlier in the year and for longer periods, which means that heat is something we need to factor in more and more as we go forward," Cedric Van Meerbeeck, climatologist at the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) based in Barbados, told The Gleaner.

"In the Caribbean, because we have had quite constant temperatures, we are not accustomed to seeing heat stress as a potential problem. We actually like to feel comfortable in hot weather, but imagine, it's hot like September in April, then each September is getting much hotter than it used to be."

He continued: "Then you start seeing people worrying, feeling uncomfortable, diseases going up, all because of heat. You start seeing productivity going down, like in many tropical areas of the world. This is not a joke. It is serious. The world is becoming much hotter and we in the Caribbean will feel the impact of it on all the sectors - health, productivity, energy."

Added Van Meerbeeck, "We have enough evidence to show that heat stress is continuing upwards, and it is a factor we need to look at, a conversation we need to have and prepare for it."

He shared some of his findings and recommendations during his presentation on 'Towards Developing Heat Alerts for the Caribbean - A Possible Prediction Framework' at the Caribbean Regional Climate Outlook Forum (CariCOF) now under way at the Fort Young Hotel in Roseau, Dominica.

He said among the things governments need to do is assess the vulnerabilities of their population. "Once we know who are the most vulnerable ones, we can target how to help them."

 

CHANGE BUILDING MATERIALS

 

Governments, he said, may need to also look at no longer building concrete housing, which traps heat, but instead strong wooden structures, particularly for the lower-income population that cannot afford air conditioning.

"The increasing impact of heat stress is something that is a tangible threat that we need to have a serious discussion about, and will only become more and more acute as we go on into the future. My advice to governments is to start taking heat into account in their climate-change adaptation plans, and look at long-term infrastructural changes," said Van Meerbeeck.

"There really needs to be a thorough look towards the future about what can be done about the heat problem."

Considered one of the most dangerous hazards to human health, each year hundreds of people die from heat stress across the world. Already, several countries have begun to create heat-response protocols.

Caribbean meteorologists and international climate researchers are meeting over the next two days with several national and regional stakeholders in climate-sensitive sectors to examine the impact on health, agriculture, tourism, water and food security.

Officially named the 2016 Wet/Hurricane Season Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum, the event is organised by the regional climate services provider, the CIMH, in collaboration with the Dominica Meteorological Service. The development partners include United States Agency for International Development, the Department of Environment Canada, The World Meteorological Organisation, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, and the University of Arizona, United States.

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerjm.com