The time of good cheer has turned out to be a time of sadness for some of our neighbours in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Fate dealt a cruel blow to many families in the Eastern Caribbean when their loved ones were cruelly swept away in flood waters on Christmas Eve. As the grim picture of the event becomes clearer, it has been reported that more than a dozen lives have been lost, some villages marooned, and thousands are without electricity and water.
The tragedy is especially painful as traditional Christmas celebrations make this the jolliest season of the year for families. But instead of celebrating, Christmas Day was shrouded in darkness for many in St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica after high winds downed power lines.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the usual sympathy messages expressing sadness and promising support were delivered by CARICOM leaders and other international organisations.
Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary General Josť Insulza seemed to question the region's climate-change credentials in his statement when he said, "the unseasonable nature of the heavy rains and flooding raises, once again, the impact of climate change in the Caribbean region."
Message for the Caribbean
This unusual climate-influenced event delivered a loud message to the region: Climate change is not a worry for the future, tackle climate change now.
Life on Earth, as we knew it, has changed and this is confirmed by the number of catastrophic events seen around the world. Droughts, extreme temperature changes, fires, floods and water shortage are all associated with climate change. And scientists predict that these events will become more severe and more frequent.
Local climate-change scientists and environmentalists will, no doubt, study this Christmas tragedy in the Eastern Caribbean and are likely to make recommendations about some of the urgent changes in environmental behaviour that need to be adopted by the people, government, and institutions. But it has always been difficult to get governments to act in a timely manner to put mitigating measures in place to deal with climate-change impact and to avoid further environmental destruction.
This time, Caricom governments will not escape renewed scrutiny of their strategies to deal with the rapid pace of climate change and to establish effective warning systems to vulnerable communities.
If things are to change, there needs to be a wider debate so that people will understand that human activity is largely to blame for climate change and to show how individuals can play their part in protecting the environment. Public attitudes to climate-change realities must change.
Who knows what spectacular event climate change will deliver to us in the future? While we may not be able to predict these events, we have strong evidence of how ferocious the global climate system can behave and we can prepare ourselves to mitigate its effects.
The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: email@example.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.