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- Drought early warning is one of the evolving climate risk management success stories in the Caribbean.
- In a region deemed generally to have adequate rainfall (though with annual dry seasons), drought was not a hazard traditionally prioritised for risk reduction interventions. This changed with the severe 2009 to 2010 drought event, one of the worst droughts in 40 to 50 years, which resulted in significant impacts across multiple sectors. Since then more focused attention has been paid to this hazard by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and national disaster management organisations across the region.
- Since the 2009-2010 drought event, significant progress has been made in monitoring, forecasting, and mitigating the impacts of drought in the region, such that by the 2014-2016 drought event - arguably the most severe and widespread drought in the region’s history - the Caribbean was better prepared. This event brought even more focus to the need to invest in drought risk management at regional, national and sectoral scales. The important role drought risk management plays in reducing drought risk to multiple sectors and segments of Caribbean society continues to be reinforced over time. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic which required the implementation of water intensive COVID-19 health and hygiene protocols to reduce virus spread, resulted in increased demand at a time when water supply was challenged in many Caribbean countries due to the ongoing 2019-2020 drought.
- Since January 2009, the Caribbean Drought and Precipitation Monitoring Network - a regional operational network of national hydrological and meteorological services (NMHSs) coordinated by the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) - has been routinely providing a suite of technical drought early warning (monitoring and forecasting) tools and products geared towards multi-sectoral decision-support, using primarily the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI), and more recently adding the Standardised Precipitation and Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) (for monitoring only). Limited climate data outside rainfall, in particular, and temperature positioned the SPI and SPEI to be the most suitable indicators for monitoring and forecasting. The Caribbean Regional Climate Center (RCC) also developed a drought forecast/alerting system, that issues threat levels using six and twelve month SPI forecasts that are updated every month. The forecasts are highly accurate through the use of a combination of observed rainfall and forecasts.
- One of the main avenues of dissemination of drought early warning information in the Caribbean is the monthly Caribbean Drought Bulletin, which packages drought monitoring and forecast information, especially highlighting the portions of the region where there are any concerns over short and long term drought. Through systematically engaging regional media houses, particularly the Caribbean Media Corporation, the Caribbean Drought Bulletin is one of the most reported climate information products featured in Caribbean media articles. Media houses across the Caribbean routinely update their readership with key messages drawn from monthly updates of the Caribbean Drought Bulletin.
- Strategic partnerships have also been formed with the lead regional technical agencies responsible for promoting the interests of key climate-sensitive sectors. To date, the multi-institutional Consortium of Sectoral Early Warning Information Systems across Climate Timescales (EWISACTs) Coordination Partners have worked together to operationally co-develop and/or enhance sector-specific climate bulletins targeting the agriculture and food security, health and tourism sectors. These climate early warning information tools inform practitioners in these sectors of likely negative impacts, as well as climate opportunities associated with upcoming climate events within the next 3 to 6 months. Drought information is a critical component of these bulletins.
- The downscaling of the regional drought early warning system to the national level is another success. The Caribbean RCC has built the capacity of its network of Caribbean NMHSs in developing their own drought alerting information. Capacity is also being built, but to a limited extent, in the user community in interpretation and application of information.
- National drought planning is important to trigger action and so all players can know their respective roles as the drought evolves. To date, only a few Caribbean countries have Cabinet approved and draft national multi-sectoral drought plans/documents, making the focus on capacity building initiatives for drought risk management at national and sectoral levels critical. However, initiatives in the near future are likely to begin to change this situation. The CIMH/Caribbean RCC continues to work with countries to enhance their national drought risk management frameworks. With agriculture being the sector most severely impacted by droughts, including flash droughts, the agriculture sector is being targeted first.
- The Caribbean is entering a new phase of impacts-based research and product development that goes beyond meteorological forecasting of the drought hazard alone, but extends into forecasting the cascade of potential climate-sensitive outcomes that may occur due to drought. The Caribbean Climate Impacts Database (CID), an open-source geospatial inventory that archives sector-based impacts from various climate phenomena, is triggering research on the relationships between climate and its impacts, including drought impacts. This research is foundational to the Caribbean’s thrust towards the provision and mainstreaming of sector-specific impacts-based forecasting information for drought.
This case study is a contribution to the GAR Special Report on Drought 2021.
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