Islands’ Vulnerability to Climate Change

I remember my mother making her way down the road, the water reaching all the way to her knee caps. I remember how strong the rainfall was, and that was 16 years ago. I can only imagine what it is like today, especially during hurricane season. Last time I visited, I remember the flooded streets on the way to the house from the airport, but the flooded streets did not stop people from driving their cars and motorcycles. The increasing recurrence of natural disasters and the increase in their strengths makes me worry for my native country; I worry about the ability for the country itself to recognize the coming dangers, the country’s ability to adapt, and the world’s focus or lack thereof of the issues islands like the Dominican Republic will have to face in the coming years due to climate change.

The Dominican Republic

According to Politics & Government Business, the Dominican Republic is one of the ten countries in the world that will be most vulnerable to climate change. “Because of its location and climate-related changes,” they write, “the country routinely experiences environmental problems such as flooding, droughts, extreme soil erosion, water shortages, and deforestation” (Politics & Government Business). The Dominican Republic is also still a developing country, which means that it will still need help from the rest of the world to solve these issues. The infrastructure, for example, to help with coastal flooding will not be something the country will be able to pay for, as domestic issues such as poverty and electricity management will take much more precedence.

When it comes to which issues take precedence over others, another big problem arises. Many people in the Dominican Republic have not acknowledged that climate change is a legitimate issue, and even further an issue that will significantly impact their lives, especially those people living around the coast. News reporter Patricia Grogg spoke to development expert Evaydee Perez about the issue, recalling that “there is still a tendency to see climate change as a problem of the future. Nor do people realise that it is not only an environmental issue, but also an economic and social concern.” This mentality is problematic because climate change is an issue that needs to be fixed now, and not left on the back burner to be dealt with later. Mobilizing the people of the Dominican Republic would be a huge step towards addressing the issues that are already present and will escalate in the years to come.

Projections of Change in the Dominican Republic by the U.S. Agency for International Development   

When it comes to some of the projected changes that will happen as a result of climate change, USAID has brought up significant concerns. For example, when it comes to hurricanes, various greenhouse gas emission scenarios have shown that “the frequency of hurricanes may not change but the global average intensity of tropical storms might increase by 2 to 11 percent by 2100, with an increased precipitation rate of 20 percent within 100 kilometers from the storm center” (19). This change in itself can have a huge effect, not even considering possible changes in the frequency of the hurricanes on the scale of El Nino/La Nina fluctuations. How a country adapts to such changes will determine their livelihood. Furthermore, when it comes to projected changes in rainfall, the USAID has found that a decrease in precipitation during the month of May could develop alongside an increase in precipitation during the month of December if we look ahead to the years 2030 and 2050 (20). This could have a large effect on food production and water quality, especially during the month of May. An increase in precipitation during the month of December could also affect flooding trends in the month of January (21). When it comes to temperature predictions, “Models agree that temperature will continue to increase at a similar rate in the coming decades (with greater increases in the Northern region), increasing water stress in arid and semi-arid areas and also during drier months,” meaning that those areas will have to find some way to adapt to that water stress (USAID 23).

More specifically, the USAID has found that “the prospect of more intense storms will increase wave action,” which will add “additional stress to marine environments like soft-bottom habitats, coral reefs, and mangroves,” and will ultimately contribute to beach erosion (29). As a result of beach erosion, homes on the coast are put at risk. Marine life is also extremely important to consider, because we would not want biodiversity to decrease due to the effects of more intense storms. There is also concerns when it comes to ocean acidification, and how the coral reefs will be adversely affected as a result.

Two sectors of business that will be largely affected by these changes will be the fishing and tourism industries. The fishing industries will be affected when it comes to, as previously mentioned, ocean acidification as well as the stress put on the marine environment through the stronger storms. It has already been noted that in areas such as Bávaro/Punta Cana “the fish populations along the coast have diminished as a result of the degradation of the reef and mangrove habitats and overfishing” (45). If the climate worsens, areas such as Punta Cana will not have fishing as a source of income at all. Punta Cana is also already hurting in the tourism industry, which is problematic because this area brings in most of the tourist for the country in general (45). According to the USAID, tourism infrastructure is already being threatened along the coast due to “the degradation of the natural buffers (reefs and mangroves),” climate change, rising sea levels, and the more intense tropical storms (45). If that wasn’t enough, the area is becoming more susceptible to hurricanes, which as a result furthers the risk of coastal flooding. The not only are the repairs for such disasters expensive to fix, but so are the preventative measures. Furthermore, “With the destruction of the reefs, the white sand beaches (the coastline’s primary tourist attraction) are at risk of disappearing. The beach is eroding at a rate of 50 cm per year” and “approximately 90 percent of the reefs are dead” (45). These are only the facts for one area of the island, I can only imagine what is happening along the rest of the coast.

Takeaways

If it was not for me writing this paper, I would have no idea that my home country was being affected to this large of an extent, and our climate is bound to change even more in the coming years. In just that statement, I have recognized why the people of my country have disregarded climate warnings: they just do not know the facts. They need to know that this is a concern to have now, a problem that needs to be worked on starting now. It is also extremely difficult to address such problems in a country where 40% of the population already lives in poverty and where education reform is needed. The problems are so intertwined that I cannot decided which needs to be addressed first.

I am sure that the Dominican Republic is not the only island that will be adversely affected by current and future changes in climate. As a whole, there needs to be more attention being paid to these small islands, because they are not any less important than the bigger, more developed countries. If anything, these islands will be affected quicker than bigger countries, and have a higher chance being uninhabitable faster.

 

 

Works Cited

Grogg, Patricia. “Dominican Republic: Climate Change Risk Seen As Remote By Citizens.” Global              Information Network Aug 03 2012. ProQuest. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

“ICMA; ICMA Addresses Climate Change in 8 Dominican Republic Communities through USAID-Funded Program.” Politics & Government Business (2015): 28. ProQuest. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

USAID. “Dominican Republic Climate Change Vulnerabilty Assesment Report.” U.S. Agency for International Development 2013. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

 

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