Our Readers' Opinions
December 2, 2016
Be aware of climate change prostitutes

by Hayden K Billingy

Climate change prostitutes are those persons or countries that do not genuinely care about the phenomenon, do not understand the issues or care to, or even believe it exists, but use the climate change momentum to leverage money for development of their countries. They will frame every project around climate change for a chance to wring money out of the hands of donor agencies.{{more}}

They will act like their country is in most dire situations, based on recent weather events, claimed to be associated with climate change, to garner international support for funding. Whilst ignoring the fact that climate change is a perpetuating issue that needs our urgent attention and sustained action outside of the evidential outcome of hazards associated with climate variability and change. It’s arguably a Caribbean syndrome that resembles our education and health care systems, where we deal with the symptoms and not the real problems. Regional governments talk eloquently about the issue of climate change internationally, but there is no sustained local to regional initiatives to show their genuine and visible support for the mitigation or adaptation to climate change in their own local context.

Here are some of the reasons for my claims. Climate change is not integrally woven into the mainstream recurrent budget across sectors, but only fantasized in the regional and national development documents. Climate change only becomes topical when a bridge washes away or a road is damaged by landslides, and the airport and the capital city is under flood. When the flood water has cleared and foreign aid money has fixed the roads and bridges, they go back to business as usual until the next event, to claim the next pay out.

Climate change is only used for political mileage or good international relations, but not to sensitize the populace about the truths of a changing climate and how to effectively adapt. How to understand and map vulnerabilities, foster community knowledge and increase local resilience. Climate change is the cash cow, the new proverbial monoculture of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The gift that keeps on giving and the credit card that never maxed, as rich constituents and donor agencies pour out a little more oil in our lamps to keep them burning.

With more SIDS justifiably demanding money for climate relief and even debt relief for climate change, how much of climate change money do you know to have gone into education and policy? The largest sum (over 90 per cent) goes towards infrastructural development to boast the portfolio of the political party in government for voting points towards the next election. We need to deal with the issues of climate change more comprehensively and build our national capacity, incite proactive community participation and build genuine resilience at the grassroots level. Build institutional capacity of national disaster management organizations, the local constabulary and the Red Cross in Disaster Risk Management and stop using our disasters, which are often times exacerbated by defects from our unregulated developments, to pimp our countries to the highest bidder for support.

Instead, the money received should be utilized to develop a climate change policy that will comprehensively address the sectors affected and strategize a way forward for national development in the face of a changing climate. Utilize the funds for vulnerability assessments and land use planning to develop contingency plans and formulate multiple hazards scenarios. Use geovisualization tools to visualize impacts and generate associated responses, rather than going about haphazardly reacting to “unexpected” disasters that claim lives and destroy the same infrastructure we use climate change money to build.

Let us climate proof our roads that are precariously perched along low-lying coastal fringes, sometimes below sea level and predominantly along cliffs, to safeguard our transport networks. Conduct a comprehensive roads and bridges assessment to expose weaknesses in our road network and do repairs where possible. Within our local context, there is need to repair collapsed segments of roads at Rabacca, Orange Hill, Tourama, London and other areas along the highway, which are impending disasters and can further compound the impacts of hazards. When these roads finally collapse, it could render complete areas of North Windward inaccessible and restrict evacuation efforts during a disaster. Government needs to repair existing feeder roads and build new access roads within the entire country as alternative thoroughfare and evacuation routes, should areas in the main highway become compromised by recurrent disasters.

With our highways being under constant threat from coastal erosion, landslides and sea level rise, we will be seeing more roads affected and more revetments and detours necessary. Could you begin to imagine locally, if something were to happen to the Mesopotamia road or the Yamboo bypass road to the magnitude of what happened to the Belmont road? With the Argyle road now impassable, how would we access the windward side of the island? You might say I’m being factitious to hypothesize a multiple hazards scenario like this, but with the current trends in rainfalls and saturation rate of soils, this is actually quite the possibility. We have to take into consideration the geology of the Mesopotamia valley and the high hazard indicator for erosion, landslides and associated failure of our roads. We have to also take into context the hazards in our not too distant memory and recount that climate variability has proven that any of these scenarios are possible in association or simultaneously. How about the fact that during the floods of 2011, the Christmas trough in 2013 and the most recent floods in 2016, every village north of the dry river was cut off from the rest of the St Vincent? These are real reoccurring events that need to be considered for contingency planning. As a region, we have to start thinking about these kinds of multiple hazards mapping to unearth vulnerabilities and create plausible scenarios and contingencies for action.

As hazards interact with people and create disasters and human causalities, let us train paramedics and coastguard personnel with climate change money to respond to these alarming hazards. Let’s climate proof our health care sectors by providing renewable energy to our health centres and hospitals. Encourage the collection of the rainwater off their roofs into holding tanks to increase the water storage capacity and increase resilience in droughts and floods.

Utilize a portion of climate change money to develop our meteorological service and networks to provide proper collection, analysis and dissemination of information for forecasting events. There is need for automatic meteorological stations throughout the country that collect adequate data for provision of forecasting information for our agricultural and health sectors. With these frequent trough systems, there is absolutely need to invest climate change money in early warning systems along rivers to safeguard those people who live adjacent or within river basins. These technologies will not only help to reduce the levels of impact, but will reduce the amount of deaths during these events.

Use money from the climate change coffers to do an assessment of our watersheds and implement reforestation and enrichment planting to replace the vegetation destroyed by alternative farming and previous floods. Marijuana farming in our upper watersheds and unregulated farming practices in the middle watershed are costing us far more money than they generate, as the impacts are felt further down into the lower watershed where we live. An integrated watershed management initiative becomes crucial to include all agencies involved in management or extraction of resource in all levels of the watershed. This should address not only forest ecosystems, but best practices for agro-ecology and agricultural production. We need to do an assessment of our rivers and remove debris from past floods. These lingering tree trunks and branches are quickly becoming the major contributors to the destruction of our bridges. Careful planning, preparation and some foresight will save us some well needed money and the cost of inaction is costing us dearly.

A portion of the climate change money must be used to lead a national campaign to raise awareness and hopefully change people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours related to climate change. About five years ago, I led a team of environmentalists who developed a proposal for a climate change conference and national campaign which was never funded. Use that as a template for national education, using climate change money.

Reactors are poor policy makers, but preparation and proactivity are the hallmarks of planners. It’s imperative to map out and plan what is possible and stop reacting to the inevitable. Climate change is here, whether Donald Trump believes it or not. The region has been impacted by several episodes of trough systems and millions of dollars lost in the wake of torrential rainfalls and floods. If this is the new paradigm shift in the Caribbean for over the last 10 years or so, why are we still reacting to the expected impacts, a trend scientists are predicting to worsen into the near future?

In the words of De Man Age “We have a Country to Build”. Let’s build it systematically using available tools that make us work smarter and not harder. A fully digitized national land use plan becomes urgent in this strategic path for development. It will set the base map for the development of a geo-physical national database and a base line for many informed decision making and policies for disaster risk management. This will help focus our attention on mitigation and preparation, rather than frantic responders that epitomize the Caribbean model of disaster management. Resilience in the region will be contingent on the efforts and capital investments made to mainstreaming climate change in all sectors of our society, that will not only prevent people from building in hazards zones, but reduce community vulnerability to the impact of hazards, reducing casualties and shortening our recovery time from disasters.

Let’s use our resources wisely to lay the foundations for deriving local to global environmental benefits. Let’s work systematically to reduce duplications and maximize the outcome of parallel environmental initiatives, in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Let’s focus our efforts on systemic issues, strengthening the local framework to effectively respond to climate change related impacts before the climate change pot of money runs out. A little can go a very long way in our efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change related hazards, but building without a foundation is a sure path to upscaling disaster. Let’s plan together to prevent the loss of our valued human and natural resources, and show real concern for our region’s natural patrimony by using our well deserved climate change money to derive socio-economic and environmental benefits for our future generations.