International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) assesses Region’s vulberability to Drought
As the 2010 Hurricane Season approaches, the Caribbean Representative Office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has responded to one of the worse droughts on record by deploying a two-man drought assessment team to report on the problems the region is facing as a result of the driest weather conditions in nearly a century.
The team made up of John King, an agricultural expert and Kenneth Letterboom, a firefighter and expert in Water and Sanitation, has visited Grenada, St. Lucia, Guyana, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. In each country they conducted meetings with stakeholders including farmers, water distribution agencies, agricultural agencies and Health Ministries in the various territories visited.
John King explained the relevance of the Red Cross drought assessment team’s work in the region. “When there is a drought, water is scarce and agriculture production will be affected by the drought,” said Mr. King, “The problem that we have is that once agriculture is impacted negatively by the drought, that means that production will decline and food security will be in danger. That’s why the Federation took the initiative to send this fact-finding mission.”
Mr. King also explained that each country was in a different state of readiness to deal with the drought. “In Grenada it looks like a disaster, in Barbados it is more like a state of emergency. The different agencies in each country are trying their best to cope. I think the main issue is the coordination. There is lots of data but no central place to see the full picture on how serious this drought really is.”
One of the main concerns which has come to the surface is national food security – the availability of food and the level of access in each country. Mr. King said while there was no need to panic, it was an issue that needed attention. “Farmers have lost some of their crops because most farmers are dependent on rain for irrigating their crops.”
An important agency the team visited while in Barbados was the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH). This CARICOM agency dates back to 1967 when it was the Caribbean Meteorological Institute. In the mid-1980’s it was amalgamated with the Caribbean Operational Hydrological Institute to create the modern institution which issues the Caribbean Precipitation Outlook, a three-month seasonal forecast for the Caribbean. It was the CIMH that signaled to the region’s Governments that the Caribbean was in the midst of one of its worst droughts on record.
While at CIMH, the Red Cross Team met with Adrian Trotman, who is Chief of Applied Meteorology and Climatology and Principal, Dr. David Farrell. “What is important is that a lot of data is available. That data has to be used to monitor an impact of this nature. We had a lot of useful information from that agency. Their forecasts are especially useful because with their forecasts we can make estimates that would allow National Red Cross Societies to plan for these events,” said Mr. King.
According to Mr. King, the Red Cross continues to play a very important humanitarian role in the Caribbean “We are preparing communities to be resilient against these types of events. What the Red Cross is trying to do is to empower communities so if there is another event like this, the people in communities will know what they should do.”
Mr. King said the broad issues are similar from country to country and he identified the vulnerability of the Region’s water sources to drought as a key finding, “Secondly, the vulnerability of the agriculture sector. These are the things we need to have solutions for. These are the most important things we have learnt”.
Mr. King also had advice for the people of the region, urging them to install simple systems to catch water and to be more efficient in their use of water “Also be creative – if you have a kitchen garden, you can use the kitchen runoff to water your plants so that you are sure you have vegetables but you would also be using water in an efficient way.”
The two man team also took the opportunity while in Barbados to conduct a one-day workshop in Food Security Assessments for fifteen (15) Red Cross Volunteers who are now equipped to use their skills for the benefit of the Barbados Red Cross Society. The training included presentations and practical role-playing exercises to demonstrate the important role such assessments can play, not only in droughts but also in hurricanes, floods and other natural or man-made disasters.