National Drought Mitigation Center


New report examines drought risk and management in parched Caribbean

June 20, 2016

A new report examines drought in the Caribbean, a region often plagued by climate-related hazards, with a focus on the role of policymaking and planning to reduce its future impacts on agriculture and water resources. Released June 17 in conjunction with the United Nations' World Day to Combat Desertification, the report seeks to bolster the Caribbean's resilience to drought and underscores the need for a paradigm shift to a more proactive approach to drought mitigation.

"Drought Characteristics and Management in the Caribbean" is published jointly by the Land and Water Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska (WFI), in collaboration with the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH).

The report reviews information on drought characteristics and management in the Caribbean region, identifies the relevant actors involved in drought management and brings together information on their work at national and regional levels. It is based on three approaches: a review of drought literature, specifically its impact on agriculture; a review of the steps being taken mainly by government agencies to plan for and manage drought; and a questionnaire on drought sent to farmers and those who provide water services to assess their views on drought and drought management.

"Severe droughts in recent years have had significant impacts on agriculture, water resources and ecosystem services in the Caribbean," said Water for Food Institute Founding Executive Director Roberto Lenton. "This report provides important insights into the way drought is perceived and managed in the region, and offers insights into the steps needed to further develop and implement policies and plans that will help build resilience and enhance regional food security."

Cody Knutson, leader of the NDMC's Planning and Social Sciences program area, who served as an expert reviewer, said, "The study revealed significant barriers to effective preparation and response to drought events in the Caribbean. Since the study was conducted, it's been exciting working with the CIMH on the development of drought policies and plans for several of the Caribbean states, which is a significant step toward increasing drought resilience in the region."

Three "writeshops" in early 2016 helped Caribbean island nations take next steps in drought preparedness. Participants focused on creating and refining policy and planning documents that advanced drought preparedness in each territory. The writeshops were organized by The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission in collaboration with CIMH and the NDMC. Writeshops bring together relevant stakeholders to create documents that advance a particular cause, in this case, drought planning.

Over the past decades, drought has become more widespread and prolonged in many parts of the world, with increased socio-economic and environmental impacts. The Caribbean accounts for seven of the world's top 36 water-stressed countries. Barbados is in the top ten.

Climate-related hazards are the most frequently occurring natural hazards in the Caribbean. Unlike the region's hurricanes and floods which require immediate attention, drought is a slow-onset event with impacts that accumulate over months and even years. The Caribbean currently lacks effective governance, human resource capacity and finance, and has poor national coordination, policymaking and planning in place to deal with drought issues effectively.

Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to drought with severe consequences on food supplies and livelihoods, especially for smallholders. The predominant practice of rainfed agricultural production means the region is vulnerable to the highly variable and unpredictable rainfall.

A severe drought in the 2009-2010 season brought these issues into sharp focus. Many regional and national programs have since initiated responses to build resilience against the impacts of drought in some of the countries. However, most of the existing polices and plans to adapt to drought are still in draft, poorly implemented or in need of review.

The report outlines key elements of the policies and plans for drought resilience in the region. These include:
• Promoting standard approaches to vulnerability and impact assessment;
• Implementing effective drought monitoring and early warning systems;
• Enhancing preparedness and mitigation actions; and

• Implementing emergency response and recovery measures that reinforce national drought management policy goals.

The questionnaire results point to the inclination to use short-term measures with lower-implementation costs over more expensive, long-term drought risk management mechanisms. The most popular long-term measures were monitoring and forecasting, followed by increased water collection and storage, and applying water-saving irrigation techniques. The report delineates the key barriers to policymaking and planning to upscale their implementation. These include:

• Inadequate policy, regulatory and institutional environment that includes poor national coordination;
• Lack of capacity at every level that hinders the work necessary for planning, reviewing of policies and plans, and implementation;
• Weakly coordinated land management that enhances land degradation;
• The value of water, that questions restrictions on a public good that should be freely accessible;
• Lack of transparent mechanisms to address up-stream/down-stream user conflicts; and

• Lack of finance.

The report stresses that identifying and removing these barriers may hold the key to more effective management of water resources, in turn leading to reduced vulnerability to drought. It is the second in a series of co-produced reports planned by the Land and Water Division of FAO and the Water for Food Institute.

Read the full report.

To request a hard copy of the report, contact Dana Ludvik at or (+1) 402.472.9510.

-- Molly Nance, Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute