Caribbean: Spotlight on disaster preparation following Tropical Storm Erika

17 November 2015

In a phone call with the Anglican Alliance on 5 November, Bishop Leroy Brooks noted the need for better disaster preparation as climate change continues to leave an increasing mark.

Weather patterns are shifting, he said, with severe effects on the economy and livelihoods.

“Seaweed [which releases a putrid smell as the algae decompose] builds up, affecting the tourist product of beautiful beaches [and] the economy [as] people are cancelling their holidays,” Bishop Leroy said.

“The ocean is heating up, we have not seen anything like it. Low lying islands of Caribbean are impacted but also ones with hills.”

Clifton Dillon Nedd, Anglican Alliance Facilitator for the Caribbean, added that because of climate change, phenomena that once had very little impact are changing, with disastrous consequences. Storms are stronger and slower-moving and sargassum seaweed is piling up in unprecedented amounts on beaches.

“In addition to the economic disruption, these situations have catastrophic effects on the environment. In particular, the seaweed cover on nesting beaches hinders endangered turtles in the nesting process and prevents hatchlings from breaking to the surface and accessing the sea,” he said.

A situation that, unfortunately, is familiar to other areas in the Anglican Communion, commented Janice Proud, Relief and Programme Manager for the Anglican Alliance.

“This is very similar to [what] we hear from the Pacific, from our colleague in the Solomon Islands,” she said.

The Anglican Alliance continues to offer support to churches in areas increasingly affected by climate change to plan and prepare for disasters, Janice said.

A core resource is the Pastors and Disasters toolkit developed by Episcopal Relief & Development and other Anglican agencies.

The materials help the local church and community to raise awareness, access risks, and identify what they can do themselves and where they need to work with others.

“It is crucial for churches and communities to plan and prepare for disasters. This is particularly important for areas where there are regular natural events such as storms, even more so with the changing weather patterns that are related to climate change. Being prepared can save lives and infrastructure,” Janice said.

Bishop Leroy welcomed this possibility to educate communities and build on previous disaster preparedness work in the Diocese done with support from their companion link, the Diocese of St Albans (Church of England).

Ongoing Response

Bishop Leroy also reported that churches are very involved in recovery and rebuilding, with support from agencies of the East Caribbean. The Diocese has sent counselling teams to the island to assist people traumatised by the impact of the unexpectedly severe storm.

“The Church has reached right across the island to impact those without support,” he said.

Churches outside the Diocese are also helping, in a strong regional response like that in the Bahamas after Hurricane Joaquin in early October. 

Photo: Damage caused by Tropical Storm Erika. Credit: NECA