Caribbean warned to brace for more drought conditions

Bert Wilkinson | 5/2/2019, 7:44 p.m.
The wider Caribbean region is being warned to brace for a dry season that could extend well into July as ...

The wider Caribbean region is being warned to brace for a dry season that could extend well into July as weather experts in the region urge government to prepare for eventualities that could be compounded by events associated with the annual hurricane season.

Since the last quarter of last year, regional weather experts had pointed to the presence of an El Niño dry season that has led to drought conditions in countries from Suriname and Guyana on South America’s northern coast to as far as Belize in Central America.

The drought has caused severe water shortages in many countries, forcing authorities to provide potable water by trucks and tankers to bring relief. Bush and grass fires have broken out daily with fire services officials in Suriname and Guyana complaining of attending to up to 30 incidents daily.

Last weekend, the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology said that the unusual dry season that started late last year will likely run into July so authorities had better beware.

In Trinidad for example, the most southerly in the Caribbean island chain, the Trinidad Express newspaper has been reporting on the destruction of crops mostly in South Trinidad and the deaths of poultry and livestock both because of prolonged drought conditions and also because WASA, the local water authority, has been unable to properly supply residents. The authority is itself blaming drought conditions for its inability to supply potable water.

“I lost ducks, chickens and goats because there isn’t enough water to take care of them,” said farmer Narenda Maharaj. “The pond where I get water from has dried up.”

The CIMH said this week that the Guianas that also include Suriname and French Guiana could get some rain as part of their normal mid-year blessings but officials should brace for dry periods during this cluster.

“More frequent wet spells are expected throughout the region, except in the ABC Islands—Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao—Islands. These spells may bring some level of drought relief, but also concern for flooding potential. Heat sensation will increase. Heatwaves may occur from May in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago, and elsewhere from July onwards,” it warned.

The institute talked about severe drought conditions in a number of island nations including Antigua, Aruba, Barbados as well as Hispaniola which includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Officials in the DR say their situation dates back to mid 2018 and, if experts are correct, it would mean almost an entire year of extreme dry conditions. The publication Bio Tropic says this is the worst drought in 50 years on the island.

“The water levels of the reservoirs and rivers have already dropped so low that the producers have to ration water for irrigation. One positive is that the lack of rain has decreased the occurrence of the moisture-loving fungal disease Sigatoka. However, the drought leads to significant losses in the banana harvest. Many banana producers have to shut down certain areas in order to be able to use the existing water to manage a remaining area,” the publication said.

As experts wait for feedback from governments, the regional body says officials must also beware that the hot, dry conditions during the annual hurricane season could also make life a bit uncomfortable.

“While the forecast does not indicate whether rainfall in August to October will deviate from the usual for the late wet season, warmer temperatures than usual are likely. This implies a build-up of considerable heat discomfort, with the occurrence of heat waves being likely, especially in August and September” when storms begin to threaten the region.