Wed | Dec 8, 2021

Effects of climate change seen across Jamaica

Published:Tuesday | October 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer Joan Buchanan showing the damage to her plantain on her degraded farm located at Morant Estate, St Thomas on Tuesday.
File The land on which sits the Annotto Bay Health Centre is being eroded by the sea.
File The drought and heat have rid this catchment in Rowlandsfield, St Thomas, of every ounce of water so that a man can stand in it.

As a child, Joan Buchanan always anticipated the summer holidays, when she would accompany her parents to the farm to reap a range of crops which would be flourishing after the May/June rains.

She still recalls the joy of going from tree to tree, sampling and reaping seasonal fruits and ground provisions such as mango, Otaheite apple, plantain, cassava, and callaloo, among others.

Now 59 years old, Joan has picked up where her parents left off and now uses the trade to provide for her family. However, the trees have become frugal in their offerings and the bountiful summer harvest she could anticipate is a thing of the past. This year was no normal summer. In fact, the season hasn't been normal for the past two years.

In an interview with The Gleaner, the resident of Seaforth, St Thomas, lamented the devastating effects a prolonged drought has been having on her livelihood. By extension, the drought is one

of several climate-change consequences being experienced by Jamaica.

"The water shortage and the drought have been taking a toll on me. Right now, there is nothing much on my farm - just some plantains, which, for the most part, break in the middle because they are not able to grow. I can hardly provide for my family. I have to be trying really hard to survive," the mother of five disclosed.

"I remember the days when we didn't have to worry much about crops because we had water and there was adequate rainfall. This (farming) is what my parents used to send me to school and (as) an adult, I also do it full time and this is the worst I have seen it," Joan admitted.

A number of small-island developing states, including Jamaica, have been reeling from what has been described as the worst drought in five years. This has been largely linked to the strong El NiÒo phenomenon. The last two years have also been the hottest on record, the effects of which Joan and other farmers have been struggling to cope with, as well as to understand.

"I don't know where this heat comes from, but the time is so hot! Sometimes I feel as if my breath is going to stop. The heat is also very bad for some crops because at this time of the year, I would be reaping sorrel to sell, but things have changed," she told The Gleaner.

As with other countries, the adverse effects of climate change are being manifested offshore as well, and fisherman Donald Gayle has noted some drastic changes in his work environment - the sea.

For more than 40 years, the 56-year-old resident of Endfield, St Mary, has earned his living by spearfishing and, in addition to serious degradation of several beaches in the parish, the veteran fisherman has seen some things which give him cause for concern.

"When I used to dive in the sea and see the beautiful reefs, it was literally a joy. There were lots of fishes, too, and fishing was very viable. However, we had storm in the 1980s and since that time, things went downhill. In my estimation, the sea now looks like when a house is destroyed," he told The Gleaner.

"We have some reefs trying to grow now, but because it doesn't have the support of bigger reefs, they eventually break, especially if the intensity of the wave is strong. The beaches are also eroding rapidly. When I was growing up, the beaches were fun, recreational areas, but that is no more," Gayle said.




Those changes on land and in the marine environment are indicators from nature about the urgency with which Jamaican needs to act, to start remedying, even in part, the far-reaching and devastating impact of climate change.

Professor Michael Taylor puts into perspective the need to act decisively and quickly to get the process of building Jamaica's resilience to climate change in a structured, sustainable way.

"As a country, we are at a critical point and we are seeing how climate-change impacts can derail our quality of life, goals and our goals of becoming a First-World country. When hurricanes reach the Caribbean, they are no less than category four and five," disclosed the climate-change expert and head of the Climate Studies Group at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

"We are seeing longer events as well, which means instead of two- to three-month droughts, we are now battling with eight months or longer, and if nothing is done now, the magnitude and frequency of these events will only increase," he warned, going on to highlight a number of poor environmental practices which have been compounding the effects of climate change.

"When we look at the number of persons building on riverbanks, how we deal (with) and dispose of our waste, in addition to the destruction of watersheds, all of these practices can be detrimental," he continued.

"We have to recognise that we are a resource-constrained country, which is why it is even more important that urgent actions are taken. We don't have the resources to keep recovering."

The issue of resource constraint was reflected in a study done by the Planning Institute of Jamaica, which highlighted that between 2001 and 2012, Jamaica experienced 11 storms, including five major hurricanes and flood events. The combined events resulted in loss and damage amounting to J$122 billion. In addition, approximately 60 per cent of the population reside in coastal towns and communities located within five kilometres of the coastline.

As such, the professor is pleading for urgent action.

Meanwhile, for director at the Mona GeoInformatics Institute at the UWI, Dr Parris Lyew Ayee, Jamaica is ignoring the call to action at is own peril.

"This is the new normal, and we have to adapt to this," he charged.

"Will you ever go back to being four feet tall the way you were in third grade? Climate change is not weather change, so what we call drought now will simply be a longer (period of) what we used to call dry season," he said.

Continued inaction, he believes, will be costly.

"We will have to incorporate engineering designs that address sea level rise the same way we incorporate designs in our construction to mitigate earthquakes and hurricanes," he added.

Such action cannot come soon enough for farmers like Joan, whose livelihoods are under serious threat.

"I didn't know much about climate change, but I have enough evidence to know that it is real," she said.