Caribbean: will Sandy force real discussion of climate change?

Although the worst damage from Sandy took place in Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, the storm also affected other parts of the Caribbean. One man died in Juana Díaz in southern Puerto Rico on Oct. 26 when he was swept away by a river swollen because of rain from the edges of the storm, and 3,500 homes were damaged in the Dominican Republic. Sandy hit the Bahamas after leaving Cuba, and one man was killed there. The total number of deaths from Sandy in the Caribbean islands was at least 68. (AP, Oct. 28, via Miami Herald) [The reported death toll in the US, which Sandy struck starting on Oct. 29, was 110 as of Nov. 4. (CNN, Nov. 4)]

Although the region has always been susceptible to damage from hurricanes, “[t]he two dozen island nations of the Caribbean, and the 40 million people who live there, are in a state of increased vulnerability to climate change,” according to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Climate Change Center. “Higher temperatures, rises in sea level, and increased hurricane intensity threaten lives, property and livelihoods throughout the region.” (NACLA, Nov. 3)

The relation of climate change to extreme weather remains controversial in the US, but it seems to be widely accepted in the Caribbean. On Oct. 31 Cuba’s official news agency, Prensa Latina, discussed a call by Carlos Rodríguez, a researcher at the government’s Physical Planning Institute, to prioritize preventive measures against disasters like Sandy that are related to climate change. By 2050 more than 2,500 square kilometers of Cuban territory may be submerged because of the rising sea level, he said, and the number could go up to 5,600 square kilometers by 2100. Studies by Cuban institutions agree that this will affect some 577 settlements identified as vulnerable, according to Rodríguez, who insisted that this issue needed to be considered in all planning for the island. (PL, Oct. 31)

On Nov. 4 centrist French politician Brice Lalonde, a founder of the small Ecology Generation party and now coordinator of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, noted that Sandy damaged both Port-au-Prince, capital of Haiti, and New York, largest city in the US. “This is also a moral question,” he wrote. “If climate change increases the intensity of hurricanes, and if the gases released by coal, gasoline and natural gas are the main agents of climate change, then Manhattan, the economic capital of a great country that is greedy for fossil fuels, will probably have its share of the responsibility for future flooding in Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince. Will Sandy push American voters to reflect on climate change? …Will a part of America go on ignoring climate change?” (Le Journal du Dimanche, France, Nov. 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 4.