ALTHOUGH the impact of climate change is not expected to be felt in any significant way in Jamaica until sometime between 2050 and 2080, already there are worrying signs in western Jamaica that the country's tourism product is at risk.
Particularly in Negril and sections of St James, sources that have been used for water supply over many years are declining, and blue holes are drying up, according to Water Resources Authority (WRA) Managing Director Basil Fernandez who spoke with reporters and editors at Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange this week.
"We are already seeing some changes in western Jamaica which may be due to early onset of certain climate variability and climate change... (We) are going to be putting in a programme to look at evaluating what is happening, particularly in the Montego River basin and the Cabarita basin and around the Negril, Westmoreland area."
"We are seeing where sources that have been utilised for water supply for many years have declined significantly. We know the problem with the Orange and Fish river blue holes, which supply Negril, leading to a major issue in Negril in terms of water availability for the tourist industry; and we are seeing in areas of south St James where things like blue holes have dried up basically, which are really surface sources of ground water rising through the limestone," he continued.
While admitting that the WRA cannot be sure that the changes are as a result of climate change, Fernandez said it may be from climate variability. As such, the authority will be evaluating historical data to see the changes over time, as it may be due to a cyclical pattern. He also said that anecdotal evidence will be used in trying to determine the possible cause of these declines.
Fernandez said research carried out by the University of the West Indies indicates that the Great River area in Montego Bay as well as the Rio Grande area in north-east Jamaica will be some of the areas that will be most impacted by climate change.
"This will lead to a reduction in rainfall, significant reduction in water resources availability, increased temperatures, which would increase evaporation and water demand... and run-off in the case of Rio Grande, you will have reduced water resources available."
The impact on the local population aside, less water in these areas will threaten popular tourism activities such as river rafting and will affect the capacity of hotels in the area to attract and accommodate visitors.