The human cost of climate

Jamaica: the human cost of climate change


For shopkeepers Patricia, Wayne and Shelly-Ann, Jamaica’s Rio Minho has always been an important part of their lives. In the Upper Rio Minho River Watershed area, the river is a source of water, food and fun. But in May 2017, when Jamaica experienced one of the most intense rain events in its recent history, their beloved river turned violent. In just 72 hours, continuous rainfall caused flooding in 12 of the Jamaica’s 14 parishes. The parish of Clarendon, where Patricia, Wayne and Shelly reside, experienced the worst effects: including the loss of several bridges, multiple damaged roads, and marooned communities.

“The flooding was like nothing we or even our parents or grandparents have ever seen” according to Patricia and Shelly-Ann. The two were operating their food stores when the floods arrived. Both were located on the road that lines the banks of the Rio Minho. “Overnight our stores were washed away by the surging waters of the river. After more than a year, we are still displaced, trying to figure out how to build back our lives. We are struggling to find resources to rebuild our shops. From that day on, we cannot look at the river with the same eyes.”

The Rio Minho River, Jamaica’s longest river at a length of 92.8 km (57.7 mi), is the main source of surface water in the parish of Clarendon. The Rio Minho Watershed area is also one of the most degraded basins in Jamaica. The combined effects of climate change, frequent droughts, wildfires, deforestation, floods, erosion and periodic landslides have exacerbated the degradation of the watershed over the years which has impacted negatively on food security and livelihoods in the surrounding communities.

Interactive map: Where are the most flood prone areas in the world?

Source: German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), UNESCO, Worldwide Hydrogeological Mapping and Assessment Programme (WHYMAP), International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH)


“We grew up along the river banks,” says Shelly-Ann. “We have seen the different states of the river and its seasonal changes. The river has always been part of our lifeline, and also a place for recreation. Some of us went fishing and swimming in the river, while for others it is more for farming. The Rio Minho here simply means ... everything.”



The impact of flooding is perhaps the most serious because of the devastating effects on community assets and livelihoods. The impacts on the agricultural sector raise adverse implications for food security, farm income and the poverty levels of affected households and communities.

Wayne, also a shop owner, added “I suffered severe damage, with water inundating the shop, damaging goods stored, inventory, furniture, fridge, stove, and other valuables. The recovery was slow and painful without access to enough funds to buy new equipment and goods.” He did, fortunately, manage to rebuild and open his shops after several months.

Photo Gallery: Jamaica's flooding of May 2017

Photo credits: Department of Geography and Geology, UWI Mona 


To address this challenge, the IDB supported the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR), a funding window of the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) for climate change adaptation and resilience building. Using a two-phase, programmatic approach, the PPCR assists national governments in integrating climate resilience into development planning across sectors and stakeholder groups. It also provides additional funding to put the plan into action and pilot innovative public and private sector solutions to climate-related risks.

Under the PPCR, the Adaptation Program and Financing Mechanism (AP&FM) Project works to help Jamaica adapt more easily to the effects of climate change. It supports the integration of climate change considerations into development planning by government agencies. It also provides funds for climate change adaptation work in priority sectors; agriculture and tourism as well as communities island wide. 



The upper part of the Minho watershed is home to some 40 communities with an estimated population of 69,000. Specific activities are being implemented to reduce the environmental stress caused and accentuated by the issues affecting the area include crop modelling, sediment budget monitoring and adaptation measures.

See more about what we are doing to mitigate the effects of global warming on our sustainability and climate change blog, here. Also, you can check more about our initiative in Jamaica here. 


Improving Lives