As part of the Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Programme (DVRP), the Government of Saint Lucia is aiming to strengthen its hydrological and meteorological services, in an effort to provide more accurate climatic data and forecasts.
Hydrological and weather dependent economic sectors, such as agriculture and tourism, require information to improve planning and decision-making. For example, better information and forecast ability of hydrological conditions, seasonal precipitation, drought vulnerability, and extreme temperatures leads to determining the type of crop that can be profitably grown in a region. Hydrometerorologist with the World Bank, Curtis Barrett, was part of a team recently on island to assist with government’s efforts to boost the country’s hydromet services.
“Meteorological and hydrologic services, which in plain language are weather, water, and climate services, are very important to countries in terms of disaster risk reduction. Weather threatens life, so knowing when hazardous weather is approaching, is extremely important, so that the potential for loss of lives and property can be drastically reduced. In that regard, Barrett says, “building the capacity of the meteorological and hydrological services is critical to preparing for potential weather catastrophes.”
More than that, climate change presents its own problems, including the potential for more extreme storms, hurricanes, and droughts.
“A properly functioning hydromet system” Barrett notes “will allow Saint Lucia to better predict and ultimately better prepare its citizens to significantly reduce the impacts of natural and climate-related disasters.”
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), cites the Caribbean as one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world. Of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, Saint Lucia presents one of the highest hurricane probabilities. However, currently, Saint Lucia’s Meteorological Service does not have the diagnostic tools needed to forecast severe thunderstorms, flash floods, and tropical storms.
Given the fiscal constraints faced by governments of small island developing states, the question frequently arises, as to how to get maximum return on investment. Economic expert on the hydromet mission to Saint Lucia, Guillermo Donoso, believes that any investment in strengthening the country’s hydromet system, will translate ultimately, to savings for all sectors based on the implementation of various scenarios. Critically, these scenarios take into consideration the country’s ability to obtain and maintain a particular hydromet system.
Using Hurricane Tomas, which inflicted US dollars 330 million in damages on Saint Lucia as an example, Guillermo notes that the implementation of Scenario 1, would have reduced damages to the country by US 20 million dollars. Implementation of Scenario 2, a more sophisticated system, would have cut damages by US dollars 30 million, whilst Scenario 3, the most sophisticated hydromet system, would have decreased damages by approximately US dollars 100 million.
“The more damage wreaked on the country” the economic expert says, “the more difficult it is to return the island to normalcy, and clearly, more finance is required to reconstruct and rehabilitate damaged infrastructure.” Guillermo also notes the impact of disasters on key sectors, including tourism, health and water. “If areas such as reduced mortality, mobility, biodiversity, and conservation are added to the figures,” he says, “then the total savings in each scenario will be significantly inflated.”
Another observation very relevant to the process of improving hydromet services, the experts say, is the need for users in many of the sectors to become more informed in understanding how hydrologic, weather, and climate services, can improve decision making in their sectors.