By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (IPS) — The Caribbean Drought & Precipitation Monitoring Network (CDPMN) is warning countries in the region that the same abnormal climate conditions they have experienced over the last few years, which resulted in some of the worst drought in two decades, could continue this year.
Several Caribbean countries, particularly in the eastern Caribbean, experienced a drier than normal February, and in some cases both February and January were relatively dry, CDPMN said.
The Barbados-based network also said that although there is some uncertainty over rainfall during the March to May period in some parts of the Caribbean, concerns remain for the western Caribbean/Greater Antilles for both short and long term drought, and in the southern portion of the eastern Caribbean for long term drought.
“Some models also suggest the possibility for the return of El Niño, and drier than normal conditions late in 2017,” Chief of Applied Meteorology and Climatology at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), Adrian Trotman told IPS. “The CDPMN will continue to monitor this situation.”
El Niño is a weather phenomenon that occurs irregularly in the eastern tropical Pacific every two to seven years. When the trade winds that usually blow from east to west weaken, sea surface temperatures start rising, setting off a chain of weather impacts.
In 2015 and 2016, a powerful El Niño drove up global temperatures and played a role in droughts in many parts of the world.
The so-called “Super El Niño” is said by experts to have had a role in driving global temperatures to record highs.
CDPMN said apart from portions of Barbados and Dominica that were slightly wet, the islands of the eastern Caribbean were normal to below normal regarding rainfall for the month.
It said Trinidad and Tobago was normal to slightly dry; Grenada, Guadeloupe, Anguilla, St. Maarten, St. Thomas normal; while Barbados was normal to slightly wet with St. Vincent extremely dry and St. Lucia moderate to extremely dry.
The French island of Martinique was reported to be moderate to severely dry, while Dominica was slightly wet in the southwest to severely dry in the northeast.
Antigua was exceptionally dry and St. Kitts moderately dry. The CDPMN said that the Guianas ranged from normal to very wet, with greatest relative wetness in interior areas.
Beginning in 1997-1998, drought forced water restrictions across the Caribbean, and resulted in significant losses in the agriculture sector.
Caribbean countries have been implementing water rationing to deal with shortages of the resource, with St. Kitts being the latest country to implement the measure.
On Jan. 25, the Water Services Department announced the resumption of water rationing in the capital Basseterre, Bird Rock, Half Moon and the South East Peninsula. Daily rationing occurs during the hours of 10 pm to 5 am.
The Water Services Department said although rainfall for 2016 was more than in 2015, it was still significantly below average, and therefore the country is still in drought.
“We are approaching the Dry Season and are already experiencing reduced inflows from our surface water sources and storage in our wells. The recent showers only improved the situation slightly,” acting general manager Dennison Paul said.
“We are also experiencing technical difficulties with one of our wells in the Basseterre Valley Aquifer, which has compounded the problem. Our drilling programme is ongoing and should bring relief to consumers when commissioned.”
In 2015, St. Kitts experienced island-wide water rationing as a result of drought conditions. Coming off traditional rainfall levels of around 20.63 inches per year, the island saw an average 9.87 inches in 2015.
Officials have implemented several water-saving measures to help mitigate the upcoming dry period.
These include asking all residents, government and private institutions to make the repair of leaks a priority; asking residents without cisterns to explore purchasing large storage containers of 500 gallons or more; businesses implementing a water management contingency plan which should involve daily monitoring of water meter; government ensuring that critical institutions such as hospitals and schools, have onsite standby water storage receptacles, based on vulnerability; there should be no washing of vehicles with water hoses; mandatory no watering of grass; no water delivery to cruise vessels; and fines or disconnection of service for violation, where applicable
In addition to other measures taken to improve the supply of water to consumers, Public Works Minister Ian Liburd indicated in July 2016 that a company, Ocean Earth Technologies, had been contracted to locate and bring on-stream new wells in the Basseterre area.
He said they had identified seven sites north of the airport where wells were to be drilled.
Barbados has also been grappling with chronic water shortages while the St Lucia government, in 2015, declared a “water-related emergency” as some communities, particularly in the north, continue to deal with dry weather conditions affecting water supplies across the Caribbean.
At the fifth Regional Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Montreal earlier this month, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Donovan Stanberry called for greater focus to be given to the impact of drought on agriculture in the Caribbean.
“I think that for a long time we have been focusing on hurricanes in the Caribbean and really we have taken our eyes off drought mitigation. And in my view for agriculture, drought is a more serious threat to us than in fact hurricanes,” Stanberry said. “After a hurricane, you can get up the next morning and start producing again; the drought tends to be prolonged.
“The overwhelming majority of our farmers, particularly our smaller ones, really depend on rainfall; and with climate change we are seeing wide variation in rainfall patterns. We are seeing extremes; in some months we have too much rain and for the last three, four years, you can almost bet your bottom dollar, that there is going to be a drought and the drought tends to be prolonged,” Stanberry added.