UN urges C'bean to prepare for increased droughtThursday, June 23, 2016
UNITED NATIONS (CMC) — A new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has urged the Caribbean to boost efforts to prepare for increased drought, stating that climate change is expected to increase the intensity and frequency of droughts in the region.
The report says countries in the region must enhance their capabilities to deal with this and other extreme weather-related challenges to ensure food security and hunger eradication.
The report, “Drought Characteristics and Management in the Caribbean” finds that the Caribbean faces significant challenges in terms of drought.
“Drought ranks as the single most common cause of severe food shortages in developing countries, so this is a key issue for Caribbean food security,” said Deep Ford, FAO Regional Coordinator in the Caribbean.
Ford said the region already experiences drought-like events every year, with low water availability often impacting on agriculture and water resources, and a significant number of bush fires.
He also said the region also experiences intense dry seasons, particularly in years when El Niño climate events are present.
FAO said that the impacts of this are usually offset by the next wet season, but added that wet seasons often end early and dry seasons last longer, with the result that annual rainfall is less than expected.
The Caribbean region accounts for seven of the world’s top 36 water-stressed countries, while one of them – Barbados, is in the top 10.
With droughts becoming more seasonal in nature in the Caribbean, the FAO said agriculture is the most likely sector to be impacted, with serious economic and social consequences.
The FAO said this is particularly important because most of Caribbean agriculture is “rain-fed.”
With irrigation use becoming more widespread in the region, countries’ fresh-water supply will become an increasingly important resource.
The FAO says small-scale, family farmers are particularly vulnerable to drought, adding that low rainfall threatens “rain-fed” crops, and low water levels result in increased production costs due to increased irrigation.
The organisation notes that extensive droughts also cause increased vulnerability in livestock as grazing areas change in nutritional value, with more low quality, drought tolerant species dominating during such dry spells.
In addition, the potential for livestock disease outbreaks also increases, FAO said.
It said drought also often results in food price increases, with expensive, desalinated water resources becoming more important in the Caribbean, accounting for as much as 70 per cent in Antigua and Barbuda.
FAO said this can impact significantly on the ability of poor households to afford food.
It said rural communities can also face a greater scarcity of drinking water during droughts.
In such cases, FAO said children are at the highest risk from inadequate water supplies during drought.
Between 1970 and 2000, the Caribbean region suffered direct and indirect losses estimated at between US$700 million and US$3.3 billion due to natural disasters associated with weather and climate events.
So far, the FAO says the region has focused mainly on floods and storms, “and it currently lacks effective governance, expertise and financial resources to deal effectively with drought issues.”
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