In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the Kalinago Territory in Dominica, a Caribbean island in southern North America, causing widespread destruction and loss of life.
Dominica, being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, faces the challenge of building resilience to ensure its habitability. Early warning systems are crucial in preparing communities for dangerous weather events.
Early warning system
Dominica’s unique system includes a grassroots approach using traditional conch shells alongside modern methods like radio bulletins and smartphones. Small island developing states, like Dominica, are disproportionately affected by climate change, posing a threat to their liveability due to rising sea levels and extreme weather events.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes the importance of early warning systems in climate adaptation. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for universal protection through early warning systems within five years.
Communicating warnings effectively to vulnerable communities is vital. Traditional methods, such as neighborly communication and community networks, complement smartphone-based warnings, which may not reach everyone.
Dominica’s cascade system starts with national-level information, which is then disseminated through community leaders, using a mix of modern and traditional methods like public address systems, radio bulletins, and conch shell blowing.
Early warning systems, however, are just one component of a comprehensive approach to climate adaptation.
Dominica has established the Climate Resilience Execution Agency of Dominica (Cread) to focus on disaster planning and early warning systems. The country prioritizes vulnerable communities, invests in resilient infrastructure like sea and river walls, and improves healthcare facilities and critical infrastructures.
Revisions to the building code ensure that only disaster-resistant structures are approved for construction.
The Aim of Dominica
Dominica aims to be a climate-resilient nation and protect lives and livelihoods. Addressing data gaps and improving communication between scientists and policymakers are crucial. Cooperation at various levels, from local decision-making to international policy changes, is essential for habitability.
Warning systems that cover multiple hazards and public education is key to embedding preparedness into everyday life.
While early warning systems increase habitability and improve the quality of life, they alone cannot guarantee the long-term viability of small islands. Without significant reductions in global emissions, some islands may become uninhabitable due to climate impacts.
The goal is to have hurricanes without disaster by ensuring resilient infrastructure and effective early warning systems based on scientific advice.
For individuals like Sarwan Gregoire, who had to leave his village due to storm damage, the fear of displacement remains. The possibility of entire countries having to relocate is a concern. Adaptation efforts can enhance habitability, but some small islands may become uninhabitable without urgent action on emissions.
Early warning systems are crucial for protecting communities in vulnerable countries like Dominica. Integrating traditional and modern communication methods helps reach a wider population.
However, adaptation measures should go beyond warning systems, encompassing resilient infrastructure, disaster risk management, and ecosystem restoration. Cooperation, data analysis, and emission reductions are essential to ensure habitability and protect small islands from the adverse impacts of climate change.