Looming drought in the Caribbean

El Nino blamed for low rainfall levels
By Bert Wilkinson

Farmers and ordinary householders in Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada and St. Lucia among others are starting to express concern about looming water shortages resulting from the prolonged dry season that saw vastly reduced annual year-end rainfall levels.

In Trinidad for example, weather watchers at the Piarco International Airport point to statistics showing that only 10 millimeters of rain fell in January compared to a normal 71 millimeters on the books as the national long-term average.

“This should paint a picture of the level of dryness being experienced in the atmosphere. There is a lack of significant rainfall,” Trinidad weather spokesman Shakeer Baig said this week.

Utilities Minister Mustapha Abdul-Hamid says that the present water levels in the reservoirs around the country “are well below their long-term averages for this time of year,” as authorities prepare to increase trucking potable water to communities across the country.

Down south in neighboring Guyana, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud says that authorities have spent $1.2M to improve irrigation and to pump water into farmlands that are feeling the effects of largely absent year end rains.

As an indication of how dry it is at this time of year, in 2005 large parts of the city and coast would have been recoveringfrom flood waters after record rains and a dilapidated draining system combined to inundate low lying parts of the country. Heavy rains following rain killed five people in addition to the 35 that authorities estimate have died in 2005.

“Pumps and excavators are being redeployed as well as local experts.

The latest forecast indicates the situation will continue up to March.

“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 says.

In Barbados, officials fear the idyllic tourist island has “been in drought since October, when all the forage was way below what it should have been. In addition, all the people who produced rain-fed crops recorded low yield this month,” said Adrian Trotman, acting chief of the Barbados-based Applied Meteorology and Climatology center at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology. “I am amazed no one picked up on it until now,” he says.

Next door in St. Lucia, officials like emergency management spokesman JulianDubois say contingency plans are being worked on as his agency asked islanders “not to panic with regard to the forecast and what could possibly happen.”


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