ACROSS the globe, climate change is resulting in more frequent and more intense disasters, disrupting food production, people’s livelihoods, and the general quality of life. In Guyana, worsening flooding is, perhaps, the most apparent or visible disaster associated with climate change. With a prolonged dry season expected this year, the country could be in for another stark reminder of the effects of the climate crisis on small, developing, vulnerable countries.
Flooding has always been my ‘go-to’ to illustrate the worsening effects of climate change on Guyana because of our inherent vulnerability (that is, our coast, where most people live and work, is below sea level). And it is well-ventilated that flooding locally (especially in the capital city, Georgetown) is worsened by an archaic, often poorly-managed drainage network and garbage buildup.
However, the local hydrometeorological office believes Guyana will encounter a drought after the current May/June rainy season. In fact, at a recent stakeholder consultation meeting, local Climatologist Komal Dhiram explained that an El Niño period linked to prolonged dry conditions is due this year.
For context, an El Niño period, which usually encompasses drier-than-normal conditions, usually follows the La Niña period of wetter-than-usual conditions. And over the past few years- at most intensely in 2021 when nationwide floods were experienced- Guyana has been facing La Niña conditions.
The forthcoming El Niño period should result in a deficit in rainfall quantities, ergo, droughts. Just as flooding disrupts food production and people’s livelihoods for example, so too can droughts. The unavailability of rainfall can strain the water supply needed for crops to grow (for example, rice, a staple food in Guyana and huge export).
Fortunately, according to reports, Dirham believes that farmers on the coast will fare better against prolonged drought. That is because there are existing water channels, such as canals, and dependable drainage and irrigation systems that can help mitigate the harsh blow of the dry season.
However, farming may become even harder in hinterland areas that are more dependent on rain-fed agriculture and are without water channels. Worse yet, prevailing dry conditions in the hinterland can intensify, leading to forest fires that can harm food production, wildlife, and communities. These forest fires, in the past, have destroyed bush islands and several plant and animal species.
Therefore, it should be a matter of priority to prepare for potential droughts this year. It is reasonable to submit that farmers, in particular, should ensure they can store as much water as possible and adequately regulate their water use.
Droughts- and worsening droughts at that- are not only a Guyana concern, though. Just as the climate crisis has intensified sea-level rises and flooding, so too has it exacerbated droughts globally.
Yuan et al. (2023), in their study entitled, “A global transition to flash droughts under climate change,” posited that all kinds of droughts are occurring more rapidly, affecting how people and communities can cope. They also contended that more abrupt dry spells, as is being recorded, could worsen living conditions in countries where people depend on rain-fed agriculture.
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Bristol in their 2023 study on the most at-risk regions in the world for high-impact heatwaves, found that a combination of factors- unprecedented heat, growing populations, and/or limited health and energy resources, mean that several regions are more vulnerable to the harsh effects of droughts.
And co-author of the study, Dann Mitchell, as quoted by the Washington Post, urged governments worldwide to be prepared for this extreme weather condition since it can strike anywhere.
With a prediction already in place for Guyana and uncertainty over how long the drought may last locally, adequate preparation is crucial.
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