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Online Exclusive: The Impact of Landslides on “Loss and Damage” in the Caribbean

Jul 26, 2023

Online Exclusive: The Impact of Landslides on “Loss and Damage” in the Caribbean

Landslides in the Caribbean shed light on the prevalence of Loss and Damage, and the call for consistent adaptation and mitigation strategies. Heavy rainfall from hurricanes and tropical storms exacerbates the risk of landslides throughout the Caribbean. Landslides heighten the vulnerability that persists within communities, particularly in terms of the effects of “Loss and Damage” (L&D). The impacts of landslides in the Caribbean reflect the demand for additional resources and adaptation measures.

Landslides in countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Haiti, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have led to a flow of debris into agricultural and infrastructural settings. This causes economic and non-economic L&D that are posing great concerns for future decisions of repair, restoration, and the safety of persons at risk. With previous considerations for Loss and Damage funding and the expected negotiations at COP28, Caribbean countries are unsure how they will be included in future decisions. How can authorities adequately measure the extent of loss and damage in affected Caribbean countries? Each country faces different challenges from the occurrence of landslides and accounts for economic and non-economic factors in numerous ways.

Economically, loss and damage from landslides have affected infrastructure, agricultural land, other forms of property, and electrical structures. In countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, landslides have resulted in collapsed housing structures in areas such as Laventille and Arima. In Jamaica, millions were estimated to be lost in crops and farmlands in 2022. These outcomes have led to financial and physical losses that require monetary assistance for repair.

In SVG, communities also face the effects of L&D from landslides. Semesha Corea, a humanitarian worker, shares the prevalence of landslides in rural areas of the country. She said, “In SVG, we usually have landslides every year, especially during the hurricane season. Given the topography of the island, we have had up to 60 landslides occur within a year under heavy strain. These usually take place within the rural areas of the island.”

For communities in SVG, landslides have disrupted their daily functioning and navigation and led to damage to infrastructure. She added, “In the past, we have had the washing away of cemeteries due to land slippage and flooding, as well as the blockage of main roads leading to or from the rural areas, causing some villages to be cut off until the debris has been cleared. Also, sometimes damages are sustained to properties.” These have become a regular outcome for rural communities with minimal adaptation strategies to reduce such events. Rural communities are at increased risk for landslides based on their geographical location near structures that are prone to land destabilisation.

On the other hand, non-economic L&D highlights the more severe extent of climate change for communities. Non-economic losses include loss of life and damage to biodiversity, to name a few. Countries such as Jamaica and Haiti have encountered losses of life and displacement that have taken an unfathomable toll on communities. The L&D associated with landslides throughout the Caribbean calls for awareness, education, and funding for adaptation measures and safety protocols. When hurricanes and tropical storms arise, communities should be equipped with the necessary resources. This is where initiatives such as the Loss and Damage Fund initiated by the United Nations Climate Conference come into effect. Countries require funding that can assist in restorative procedures and protection. They can achieve this through mobilisation efforts at the local, regional, and international levels.

Ashawnté Russell, a citizen and current resident of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and an active environmentalist, shared that enhancing resilience and responding rapidly to disasters are some of the ways that communities can prevent the colossal damages due to climate change. The decision-making process in L&D must be inclusive and proactive. Each year, Caribbean countries face heightened challenges from climate change. The vulnerability that persists within communities is exacerbated by socioeconomic effects and climate disasters. These effects must be continually accounted for in global decisions. They require representation in the decision-making processes that determine the future of Loss and damage initiatives. How can leaders develop an inclusive approach for adaptation efforts if affected countries aren’t included in the conversations?

Ashawnté added, “The L&D Fund has the potential to alleviate the severe levels due to climate change. This fund is an essential component for climate justice as it helps to address obvious geographic imbalances that exist in the cause-and-effect relationship of the climate crisis.” Although this fund can be a catalyst for significant changes in policy, the distribution of resources, and effective safety protocols, the approach to this must be a continuous commitment.

The L&D Fund can become a key step in the process towards climate justice, but it must coincide with other actions for resilience. This can be done through initiatives such as the Management of Slope Stability in Communities, which has been a success in risk reduction in St. Lucia. There can be a reduction in the rate of events such as landslides in developing approaches that are influenced by science and the community. 

The commitment required shouldn’t end with L&D negotiations at COP27 or the anticipated agreements at COP28. Climate change impacts the Caribbean each year, with increased risks for vulnerable communities. Outcomes such as landslides are severely impacting the environment and the well-being of those who inhabit them. Acknowledging the realities of climate-related disasters in the Caribbean and the potential strategies for adaptation and mitigation is a further step towards climate justice.

By Princess Charles

This story was published with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture of Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.”