Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Climate-Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Small Island Developing States: The Case of Rainwater Harvesting in Jamaica

Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Climate-Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Small Island Developing States: The Case of Rainwater Harvesting in Jamaica

Article excerpt

Citation: Waite, M. 2012. Climate-change mitigation and adaptation in small island developing states: the case of rainwater harvesting in Jamaica. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 8(2):81-87. Published online Oct 02, 2012.


Climate change presents great challenges for small island developing states (SIDS).1 SIDS are generally low-lying and coastal nations that range in size from Papua New Guinea (more than 450,000 square kilometers or km2) to Tokelau (10 km2) (Schmidt, 2005). These nations are found throughout the world, although most of them are located in the wider Caribbean and South Pacific regions. Ninety percent of SIDS are in the tropics and many are members of the Alliance of Small Island States.2 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has labeled SIDS as the nations most vulnerable to climate change (see Payet & Agricole, 2006). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change lists the following characteristics of SIDS that render them particularly at risk (UNFCCC, 2005):

* Limited natural resources, with many heavily stressed from human activities

* Coastal concentration of population, socioeconomic activities, and infrastructure

* High susceptibility to frequent and increasingly intense tropical cyclones and associated sand and storm surges, and to droughts, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions

* Dependence on freshwater resources that are highly sensitive to sea-level changes

* Relative isolation and significant distance to major markets

* High sensitivity to external shocks

* High population densities (and in some cases high population growth rates)

* Inadequate infrastructure

* Limited physical size, which eliminates some adaptation options to climate change

* Insufficient financial, technical, and institutional capacities.

These factors challenge the developmental prospects of SIDS by serving as a barrier to accessing foreign markets and developing domestic products and services. The susceptibility to cyclones and droughts prevents some industries such as agriculture and water-dependent manufacturing from operating at optimum levels. Limited size creates intense competition for land use (residential, agricultural, industrial, institutional, and conservational uses), which makes land-intensive adaptive measures to climate change difficult.

This essay focuses on Jamaica to highlight the problems encountered by SIDs and devotes particular attention to an analysis of climate change and water resources in this Caribbean nation. Included is an overview of climate and precipitation in Jamaica, threats to water resources due to climate change, and rainwater harvesting as a possible response. The objective is to answer key questions regarding the potential of rainwater harvesting as a strategy to mitigate water shortages due to climate change.

The Climate-Water Nexus in Small Island Developing States

The climate-change impacts on water resources are especially troublesome for SIDS. These consequences include decreases in already limited freshwater availability (due to changes in rainfall patterns, saline intrusion of freshwater aquifers from sea-level rise, changes in El Niño intensity and frequency), increased incidence and intensity of floods and changes in storm tracks, impeded drainage and elevated water tables, and heightened frequency and severity of droughts (UNFCCC, 2005).

Extreme weather events pose health risks as well as cause physical and infrastructure damage. In the Caribbean, risks include insect-borne, rodent-borne, water-borne, food-borne, and respiratory diseases, and heat-related illnesses (Ebi et al. 2006). In May and September, 2002, Jamaica experienced major flooding that resulted in four deaths, relocation of 725 people, and infrastructure damages worth US$1 million (WHO, 2003). …

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