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Barbados adapts to climate change

The waterfront promenade, a kilometer-long breakwater six to twelve feet deep, located on Barbados’ southern coast, is more than just a space for tourist entertainment. The beautiful structure was designed to connect beaches, prevent erosion and protect the coast from winds in excess of 170 kilometers per hour.

The structure is one of the achievements following more than 28 years of cooperation between the government of Barbados and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to protect and manage the island’s coast.

For Barbados, the coastal zone is its best economic resource. Sandy beaches, calm waters, reefs and other ecosystems along a 97-kilometer stretch of coastline, have created conditions for a large tourism industry, which now directly and indirectly accounts for nearly 40 percent of the island’s gross domestic product. This industry is central to local life, supporting activities such as fishing and maritime transportation in the Caribbean.

“Adequate coastal management interventions such as those supported by the Bank in Barbados, show that it is possible to achieve positive synergies between the disaster risk prevention and mitigation and a strategic sector such as tourism, to maximize the economic benefits for the country,” according to Héctor Malarín, Chief of Environment, Rural Development and Disaster Risk Management at the IDB.

The consistent systematic effort of the government to protect its coasts through a long-term strategy has been key for this project’s success.

The project began in the mid-80s when the IDB supported a program to gather technical and scientific data on how the environment was affecting the coast.

Later, as part of the Coastal Conservation Program, with a loan of $3.6 million and $500.000 in grants from Canada, the IDB focused its efforts on institutional strengthening and the creation of a unit specializing in coastal management. With creation of the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU), Barbados became the first country in the Caribbean to set up a special body to handle this topic. Its first director, Leonard Nurse, is internationally renowned today on the subject of climate change. He is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize for its contribution to research in this field.

Between 2002 and 2009, the IDB implemented a $17 million project that helped stabilize the coast and control its erosion in the popular areas of southern and western Barbados. The project also supported major improvements in public access to the coast and popular beaches. The improvements were based on scientific information and high global standards of international engineering, which led to a reduction in costly long-term maintenance expenses.

“The institutional capacity created as a result of the different projects has made Barbados one of the leaders in the Caribbean in terms of its ability to adapt to the effects of climate change,” according to Michele Lemay, a natural resources specialist at the IDB. The country uses effective solutions that are sustainable in the long term to fight coastal erosion and the increase in the frequency of flooding.”

This year the Bank is seeking to provide new resources to give Barbados more tools to fight coastal risks and climate change. Experts forecast an increase in the frequency of natural disasters and their impact on the island. Without adaptation studies that enable changes and adequate decisions to be made, Barbados’s lifestyle and assets could suffer since it would not be able to properly address the economic and social risks stemming from climate change.

“The knowledge, skills and experience acquired by the CZMU, thanks to the IDB support over the last 28 years, have clearly paid dividends,” Cassandra Rogers, team leader and specialist in risk reduction and disaster management at the IDB, said. “The upcoming IDB interventions will build on the experience gained from cooperating with the CZMU on managing risks and undertaking coastal zone management practices.”

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