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Hurricanes, climate and the implications

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EDITOR: While it is all well and good for us to plan and prepare for annual hurricanes and disasters, it was not always like this for us Small Island Caribbean States.

The cold facts are that over the past decade, the region has seen a dramatic increase in the frequency and intensity of Atlantic storms, enough to be a cause for real concern. The figures show that in the decade prior to 1965 there was an average of seven (7) named storms annually. In the ten-year period between 1965 and 1974, there were 81 named storms followed by 85 between 1975 and 1984 and 88 between 1985 and 1994.{{more}}

The real shocker came in the last decade 1995 to 2004 when the total named storms jumped alarmingly from 88 to 142. This meant that from an average of 8 named storms annually in the forty (40) years prior to 1995; we have suddenly arrived at an average of 14 named storms annually.

In addition to this, over the last decade, sea-surface temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic – the breeding ground for most Caribbean hurricanes – have been the warmest on record. Figures also show that across the globe, the amount of water vapor over the oceans has increased by about 2% since 1988.

We also observe that our hurricane season is gradually expanding. This year, we have had a record five (5) named storms within five (5) weeks of the start of the hurricane season. Add to that the fact that the recent hurricane Emily is now the strongest July hurricane on record. This follows the recent but most unusual occurrence of two named storms in month of December 2003.

If this is not evidence of global warming, then it strongly suggests that something else very significant is happening. Whatever it is, it is unlikely that Small Island states like ours who are most adversely affected, are contributing to it. It seems also very unlikely to be a natural occurrence since changes in nature tend to evolve gradually over time.

I believe that it is time for the rich and heavily industrialized nations to shoulder some moral responsibility for determining the cause of the sudden changes in the climatic conditions experienced in the very vulnerable Caribbean region and economies.

If, according to Professor Gray, these recent developments are not due to global warming and greenhouse gases of the industrialized world then the region’s leaders must demand some explanations as to the sudden extremes in weather and climate and the negative effects on their economies. Here in St. Vincent, we all recall that we recently went very quickly from prolonged rains, flooding and landslides in December 2004 to a two-month drought a mere three months later.

The implications of these adverse climatic changes are increased costs and larger national budgets. Very soon our tourism sector will be worse hit than our agriculture sector. Additionally, funds previously earmarked for development projects now have to be diverted to reconstruction and disaster preparedness. There are also increased allocations for watershed management, river and sea defenses, roads and retaining walls. Further, the private sector is also now faced with increasing insurance and reinsurance costs, all of which are passed on to the consumer.

The net effect is that, without outside intervention and assistance from the rich industrialized countries we will all continue to struggle to, at best, remain at the same stage of our development. As a group of disadvantaged islands, we have common ground, at least on the threat and frequency of destructive hurricanes and adverse weather patterns. Why not make a case for increased assistance; we have the cold hard facts and data to show.

G E M Saunders

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