Sat | Aug 8, 2020

Earth Today | Resilience building a must for Caribbean islands in a COVID-19 world

Published:Thursday | July 2, 2020 | 12:16 AM

CARIBBEAN ISLANDS should give attention to climate change and disasters, as part of their sustainable development agenda, even as they adjust to life with COVID-19.

“Climate change and disasters must be prioritised,” noted Therese Turner-Jones, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) country representative for Jamaica, speaking recently during a teleconference hosted by The University of the West Indies, under the theme ‘COVID and the Environment: For Better or for Worse’.

She suggested that the case is well made by a look at the numbers and the impacts of disasters on the region, which is counted among those most vulnerable to climate change.

Between 2010 and 2019, natural disasters, Turner-Jones revealed, have:

• affected some 800,000 people in IDB member countries in the region;

• been linked to 400 deaths; and

• caused some US$8 billion in loss.

As for COVID-19, between March and May this year, it affected a reported 6.3 million people; has been linked to some 46 deaths; and is projected to cause economic contraction of between 5.3 and six per cent.

“Vulnerable groups are always on the front line of any impact. They will continue to be negatively impacted by climate change and natural disasters. We will see increased population displacement and migration flows,” Turner-Jones noted in her presentation which focused on ‘COVID and Climate Change: Two Caribbean Developmental Challenges’.

There are also health impacts with which to contend.

“In terms of health, COVID-19 is obviously one particular manifestation, but we know that climate change has health impacts that are measurable. We see those in vector-borne diseases, like dengue and chikungunya. But we also know that mental health needs to go up,” the IDB representative said.

“We see more starvation and malnutrition, more respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, more temperature-related deaths. We have more water-borne diseases and we see more health emergencies,” she added.

Turner-Jones said a deliberate effort must, therefore, be made to build resilience, bearing in mind interconnected impacts – from population health and anxiety to financial flows and debt management, social welfare, poverty and inequality, as well as supply chains, and human capital development and institutional relevance.

In this, she found agreement with Eleanor Jones, who heads the Jamaica-based consultancy firm, Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL).

“This pandemic is reminding us that the important things in life require investment – in people; in physical and mental well-being; in protecting our environment and in combating inequalities. Nature is threatened by biodiversity and habitat loss, global heating and toxic pollution,” she said.

“Failure to act is failing humanity. Addressing the current COVID-19 pandemic and protecting ourselves against future global threats requires sound management of hazardous medical and chemical waste; strong and global stewardship of nature and biodiversity; and a clear commitment to ‘building back better’, creating green jobs and facilitating the transition to carbon-neutral economies,” the ESL boss added.

“Humanity depends on action now for a resilient and sustainable future. This is not solely an issue of protecting natural resources. It is closely intertwined with economics, finance and people,” Jones noted further.

The IDB representative, in the interim, reminded conference participants of the bank’s commitment to financing resilience in the region, with ongoing operational responses to COVID-19 including not only loan reformulation and technical cooperation, but also expansion of contingent credit with expedited procedures, support for vulnerable populations and the reprioritisation of 2020 lending pipelines.