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O U R  A M E R I C A

Havana. October 30, 2014

Climate change an "existential
threat" for the Caribbean

Desmond Brown
(Text & photos)

When it comes to climate change, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines doesnít mince words. He will tell you that it is a matter of life and death for Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

For St. Vincentís Prime Minister
Ralph Gonsalves, climate change is a
matter of life and death.

"The threat is not abstract, it is not very distant, it is immediate and it is real," Gonsalves told IPS.

"The country which I have the honor of leading is a disaster-prone country. We need to adapt, strengthen our resilience, to mitigate, we need to reduce risks to human and natural assets resulting from climate change.

"This is an issue however, which we alone cannot address. The world is a small place and we contribute very little to global warming but yet we are on the frontlines of continuing disasters," Gonsalves added.

Since 2001, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has had 14 major weather events, five of which have occurred since 2010. These five weather events have caused losses and damage amounting to more than 600 million dollars, or just about a third of the countryís Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

"Three rain-related events, and in the case of Hurricane Tomas, wind, occurred in 2010; in April 2011 there were landslides and flooding of almost biblical proportions in the northeast of our country; and in December we had on Christmas Eve, a calamitous event," Gonsalves said.

"My Christmas Eve flood was 17.5 percent of GDP and I donít have the base out of which I can climb easily. More than 10,000 people were directly affected, that is to say more than one tenth of our population.

"In the first half of 2010 and the first half of this year we had drought. Tomas caused loss and damage amounting to 150 million dollars; the April floods of 2011 caused damage and loss amounting to 100 million dollars; and the Christmas Eve weather event caused loss and damage amounting to just over 330 million. If you add those up you get 580 million, you throw in 20 million for the drought and you see a number 600 million dollars and climbing," Gonsalves said.

Over the past several years, and in particular since the 2009 summit of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, the United States and other large countries have made a commitment to help small island states deal with the adverse impacts of climate change, and pledged millions of dollars to support adaptation and disaster risk-reduction efforts.

On a recent visit to several Pacific islands, Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the importance of deepening partnerships with small island nations and others to meet the immediate threats and long-term development challenges posed by climate change.

But Gonsalves noted that despite the generosity of the United States, there is a scarcity of funds for mitigation and adaptation promised by the global community.

Opposition legislator Arnhim Eustace is concerned that people still "do not attach a lot of importance" to climate change.

"When a fellow is struggling because he has no job and canít get his children to school, donít try to tell him about climate change, he is not interested in that. His interest is where is my next meal coming from, where my childís next meal is coming from, and that is why you have to be so careful with how you deal with your fiscal operations," he stated.

Eustace, who is the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, said people must first be made able to meet their basic needs to that they can open their minds to serious issues like climate change. (Excerpts from IPS)
 

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