Rising sea levels continue to be a threat to Barbados’ coastlines!
The threat and dangers of storm surges, winter swells, earthquakes and even tsunamis are always present, especially for those who live along the island’s coasts.
But, beyond the physical, what is being done in Barbados to protect life and property from potential coastal hazards?
Deputy Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU), Dr. Lorna Inniss, explained that while sea level rise was always a consideration, officials were now turning their eyes to the full range of coastal hazards associated with them, and their likely impact on the country.
"As the impact of climate change gets worse, you are getting increased storm surge activity, and this is something that we have not yet factored into our planning procedures. It is something that we need to consider very carefully because we expect that coastal flooding whether it is from the ocean or from the land is actually going to get worse," Dr. Inniss said.
She added that identifying those coastal hazards and their impact, would make it possible for the island’s Department of Emergency Management (DEM) or other representatives in the national emergency management system, to develop a hazard map atlas and establish evacuation plans in the event of storm conditions or tsunamis.
"That is what we are working on now. Understanding that it is not just the coastal zone under normal conditions, but under hazard or sea level change conditions," she said.
To achieve this, the CZMU is seeking to introduce the element of risk in a comprehensive way through the Coastal Risk Assessment and Management Programme (CRAMP). The project initially experienced some delays, but is now expected to get under way between July and August this year.
CZMU Director, Dr. Leo Brewster, explained that CRAMP was the next phase in Barbados’ coastal conservation programme which started since the 1980s.
"The programme focuses on taking information that relates to coastal zone management and areas of coastal management, and bringing a new dimension of coastal risk assessment, climate change adaptation, and disaster risk management, and integrating them all into the existing coastal zone management policy and programme for Barbados," he explained.
Dr. Brewster added that the five-year programme was estimated to cost US$42.2 million, and was funded by the Inter-American Development Bank in association with the Barbados Government.
The main agencies involved with CRAMP are the CZMU, the Town Planning Department, DEM, the Drainage Division, the Environmental Protection Department, the Ministries of the Environment and Tourism, and the Statistical Department, among others.
The programme will be broken down into three components – a Diagnostic Study, a Coastal Risk Information Platform and Institutional Strengthening.
The first component of CRAMP involves diagnostic studies being conducted to guide the remaining two components of the project and decisions made. "We will be looking at a revisit of the sea formatting of the island to the near shore, and also some aerial photography," Dr. Brewster explained.
It will also involve an analysis of shoreline changes over the last 50 years, a sediment transport programme, and cliff and slope stability on the East Coast of Barbados. "We will also identify high risk coastal zones that might be prone to slippage and failure along coastlines and then we will also do several different hazards like sea level rise, surge, earthquake and tsunami," he said.
The Director pointed out that the CZMU was presently trying to collect data for its offices on the island’s coastlines. He explained that at present, different agencies such as the Land Valuation Department and the Statistical Department had their own information.
"Now we need to get that information for us [the CZMU] for the coast. We need to know issues that relate to land values on the coastline; occupancy levels in hotels and the number of people employed; housing conditions; also things that relate to the number of people in a home because that has implications when it comes to disaster risk management for things like evacuation routes; knowing the most vulnerable in society and where they are found," Dr. Brewster stated.
To achieve this task, an expression of interest for the first component has already been sent out with six companies being shortlisted.
The second component of the project looks at the Coastal Risk Information Platform, which Dr. Brewster described as a geographical information systems-based computer programme.
That programme, he said, would allow the CZMU to input data, do analysis and come up with a much more improved decision support mechanism to give assistance when dealing with Town Planning applications.
It could give us more justification as to why certain types of development should not take place on certain sections of the coastline," he noted.
The third component of the project will involve institutional strengthening of the CZMU and associated agencies to develop a strategic action plan for climate change, adaptation and disaster risk management in the coastal zone.
Dr. Brewster said the CZMU would also be updating the draft Coastal Zone Management Plan with the new information. "The new mapping would then go into that plan and we would take it right through to have it approved as a document that can be made publicly available," he explained.
In addition, the Director said the Unit would also be looking at the preparation and implementation of a disaster risk management Plan, and a climate change and adaptation sensitisation and training plan to raise the level of awareness of the public.
"We have to develop a communications strategy on coastal risk management. It is a very comprehensive and detailed programme. It is the first of its kind especially within Latin America and the Caribbean," Dr. Brewster said.
At the conclusion of these projects, it is hoped that this country will be in a better position to address the problems associated with climate change and rising sea levels.