Prolonged drought can mean desertification
Crédito: Mauricio Ramos/IPS
The Thirsty Caribbean
Por Peter Richards
The countries of the Caribbean, facing the worst
drought in decades, are adopting strict rationing rules, with jail
time for those who violate them.
PORT OF SPAIN, Mar 1 (Tierramérica).- Caribbean countries are considering options like
desalination plants and cloud seeding to confront a drought that
threatens the regional economy and which experts warned about
In St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, they are warning of
prosecution, including jail time, if consumers violate measures
introduced to curb the use of water other than for drinking,
cooking and bathing.
In a paper presented in a 2007 conference in Barbados, entitled
"Coping with Drought in the Caribbean," expert Bano Mehdi,
cited scientific warnings about this drought, noting that "more
intense and longer droughts have been observed over wide
areas since the 1970s."
From Trinidad and Tobago in the south, to Jamaica in the north,
governments are implementing water rationing to deal with a
drastic decline in capacity in the reservoirs. Some, like Guyana,
are pumping a significant amount of money to help farmers
overcome the problem.
"So far we have close to 10,000 acres of rice under stress; we
have cattle, too, going through some very difficult conditions,"
as well as crops under pressure in the interior of the country,
said Guyana’s Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud.
"This time last year we were dealing with rainfall levels higher
than the 2005 floods. The effects of climate change are hitting
home very often," Persaud added.
When the 2010 national budget was presented in mid-February,
the Guyana government said it was allocating 29.4 million
dollars to improve agricultural irrigation systems.
A few days later, President Bharrat Jagdeo said an additional 1.2
million dollars would be spent on efforts to confront the effects
of El Niño/Southern Oscillation, the cyclical phenomenon in
which warm surface waters of the equatorial Pacific flow
eastward, altering weather patterns across the Americas.
"The entire apparatus of the government is focused on bringing
as much relief as is humanly possible to our people across
Guyana," Jagdeo told farmers, noting that some communities are
having difficulties obtaining even drinking water.
Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Patrick Manning is
convinced that this drought is due the effects of climate change.
His administration is looking to add to the single desalination
plant to move the country away from "too-heavy reliance on
surface water sources."
"We believe it is El Niño, but it does not in any way negate our
conclusion that as a result of climate change, among other
things, we can experience droughts in Trinidad and Tobago,"
According to Public Utilities Minister Mustapha Abdul-Hamid,
the water levels in the reservoirs "are well below their long-term
averages for this time of year." The Water and Sewerage
Authority (WASA) has placed a ban on citizens using water to
wash vehicles or water plants and lawns.
So stringent has been the measure that Manning dismissed a
contractor working at his official residence after pictures were
published in the newspapers showing sprinklers being used to
water the lawns.
WASA regional manager Collin Nym said the outlook was bleak
for 2010 because lower rainfall had exacerbated production
constraints at one of the main water treatment plants and the
"We have a large reservoir and we did not capture as much
rainfall as we anticipated. Between January and June 2009, we
faced a lot of problems," he said. "The Meteorological Office
predicted that we would have 80 to 90 millimeters of rainfall for
January, and we only saw five."
The Jamaican government has hinted at the possibility of cloud
seeding, which involves the use of chemicals to influence rainfall
in areas where the drought is more severe.
Water Minister Horace Chang met recently with a group of
experts from the University of the West Indies (UWI) to discuss
the possibility of cloud seeding, but it is a very expensive
Authorities already had to cut a drought mitigation program due
to the austerity measures required by a recently signed, multi-
billion-dollar Standby Agreement with the International
Monetary Fund (IMF).
The scheme was expected to include the reactivation of several
abandoned supply wells in Jamaica. According to Chang, the
National Water Commission is losing an estimated 2.2 million
dollars in revenues per month as a result of the country's worst
drought in decades.
"We have been spending more money and we have lost
significant revenue... People can't pay if they don't get water, so
we have to spend more money in terms of operational costs,"
Corporations are also complaining.
"If the drought continues, we will definitely look to start trucking
water to the different factories, but there is a cost involved in
doing that,” said Omar Azan, president of the Jamaica
In St. Lucia, the authorities issued a "Declaration of Water
Related Emergency" on Feb. 24, and have warned that persons
contravening the new measures could face both a fine of not
less than 1,110 dollars and imprisonment of not less than six
Among the measures contained in the declaration is a ban on
the use of water for watering of gardens, lawns, grounds and
farms as well as for supplying ponds, swimming pools, "or for
use other than normal domestic services such as drinking,
cooking, washing, bathing and sanitation."
Dominica, which boasts 365 rivers, has warned consumers that
the drought could get worse.
Based on information from the Caribbean Institute for
Meteorology, in Barbados, "we will experience severe dryness for
some time to come. If it does continue... it means the water level
will definitely get lower and there will not be sufficient pressure
to provide water to many communities," said Gwennie Dickson,
spokesperson for Dominica's Water and Sewerage Company.
The Antigua and Barbuda public utilities authority said that at
the normal rate of consumption, the Potworks Dam wouldn't
have enough water to take the country to the end of March.
Adrian Trotman, acting chief of applied meteorology and
climatology at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology, warned
that countries like Barbados could experience drought
conditions for a long period.
"This is the view of scientists of the Caribbean Drought and
Precipitation Monitoring Network (CDPMN), who have been
analyzing rainfall trends in the Caribbean since January 2009,"
Trotman said in a statement.
"Water resources managers across the region are urged to
implement the necessary measures to conserve water, as the
drought conditions are expected to persist over the next three
months," he added.
The CDPMN, which was launched in January 2009 under the six-
year Caribbean Water Initiative project, has warned that unless
the precipitation situation is closely monitored, "one often does
not realize that drought is upon you or is approaching - until
the effects are already felt."