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THE CARIBBEAN
Climate change fuels fiercer storms
Lucila Horta
9/18/2008
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Stronger and more frequent hurricanes batter the Greater Antilles.

Hurricane season — June 1 to Nov. 30 — was particularly harsh. On Aug. 18, the sixth hurricane of the year, Fay, slammed into Haiti and the Dominican Republic, leaving some 100 people dead.

Two weeks later Gustav, followed almost immediately by Hurricane Hanna, caused massive flooding in Haiti and thousands homeless. Ike struck Cuba head-on shortly afterward on Sept. 7 and 8. The three storms killed 600 people, mostly in Haiti, and destroyed 800,000 homes.

In Cuba, 500,000 homes were destroyed, leaving 2 million homeless, along with half of the country´s crops, and its electrical and telephone systems collapsed.

José Rubiera, chief of forecasting at Cuba´s Meteorological Institute said that the country´s Civil Defense system saved 2.5 million people and that the damage could have been much worse.

Like many scientists, Rubiera said that the threat of bigger and fiercer storms is the result of rising temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, where they originate.

Caribbean nations are especially at risk because of their geographic location, open islands in the warm Caribbean Sea. Storms killed 6,000 people in the region in the last decade.

Projects underway
The Precis initiative, or Providing Regional Climates for Impacts Studies, was designed by British government scientists and is now applied to Caribbean nations. Since last year, Jamaica, Barbados, Belize and the Caribbean Climate Change Center have been sharing human resources and technology to map out possible storm scenarios, using Cuban-designed computer programs.

One of the center´s activities is to help revitalize the highly deforested Artibonite River Basin in Haiti, where Port-au-Prince´s electricity is generated. The country is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is also participating in programs headed by the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, that aims to minimize storms´ impact, avoid droughts, forest fires, environmental damage to beaches and endangered species, as a result of damage to the global ecosystem.

In 2007, Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic created the Caribbean Biological Corridor, which aims to manage and protect marine ecosystems home to hundreds of species in danger of extinction because of climate change, by outlining protected areas.

Cuba, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic have the most protected marine areas, but it is not enough.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicts more intense and frequent tropical storms in the years ahead with dangerous consequences for farming that could lead to lower crop outputs, higher prices, especially for the Caribbean and continental Latin America. What happened with Hurricanes Fay, Hanna, Gustav and Ike confirm its forecast.

Cuba had to reach into its food, medicine and materials reserves to aid the victims. “It´s impossible to resolve the catastrophe´s magnitude with the available resources,” said Carlos Lezcano Pérez, president of the National Institute of State Reserves.

Catastrophic forecasts
Rodolfo Claro, of the Cuban Institute of Oceanology, which studies rising sea levels due to meeting glaciers and other factors, and the impact on fish and other species, said that the quickly rising salt water levels to farming irrigation areas is alarming, but many proposals to help slow the process never come to fruition because of a lack of funding.

Claro warns that average ocean levels could increase by up to 1 meter (3.3 feet) between 2050 and 2100 causing irreparable damage.

In Cuba alone, 374,000 hectares of fields and mangroves could be lost, spoiling current efforts to increase the country´s forestland. Also, the Guanahacabibes peninsula could be swallowed up by the ocean, changing the coastline of the Pinar del Rio province.

Pinar del Rio and the Isla de la Juventud were the areas most in danger for the last two storms. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike pulled up thousands of timber forests, also in the provinces around the capital, though the damage was not as severe there. Preliminary figures pointed to damage from the two storms of US$5 billion. But officials say it could have been even worse if the country did not have more than 1,000 kilometers of anti-flooding works and 235 dams and power plants allowed hospitals and bakeries to stay open after the fall of hundreds of kilometers of high-voltage cables.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Hurricanes have destroyed 500,000 homes in Cuba so far this year. (Photo: TV Solivision/ Ariel Soler)
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