The Heat Is Online

Caribbean Island Nations Face Worst Drought on Record

Worst drought on record saps life in the Caribbean

The Associated Press, April 8, 2010

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The Caribbean is battling a record drought that has shut down schools and courtrooms and sparked brush fires and a prison protest.

Countries including Guyana, Grenada, St. Lucia and Barbados report the lowest rainfall totals from October to March since records were kept, said Adrian Trotman of the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology.

The drought that started in October, normally the region's wettest month, is expected to continue at least until May.

"In some parts of the region, it's probably the worst drought ever on record," Trotman said Thursday. "Some things are really starting to go roller-coaster down."

St. Lucia declared a water emergency after main reservoir levels dropped more than 20 feet (6 meters), closing two schools and some courtrooms because of dry taps, said John Joseph, general manager of the state-owned Water and Sewerage Company.

In Guyana, a grass-roots women's organization staged a protest and fundraiser for a water truck, while the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana organized its first-ever prayer for rain.

Impoverished Amerindian communities in the mountains have it worse, said Regional Chairman Senor Bell.

"There's no way we can pump water from below to the mountain," Bell said. "The villagers will have to move and go to sites on the big rivers. They can't survive on the big mountains in the near future. They can't."

In Jamaica, where the island's largest dams have been operating at less than 40 percent capacity, inmates at a maximum-security prison protesting a lack of water started a riot that sent 23 to the hospital in February.

Trinidad has enforced its strict water conservation law for the first time since 1998.

In Barbados, crews have battled more than 1,000 brush fires this year compared to 361 fires during the same period last year, said Mervin Meyers of the Barbados Fire and Rescue Service.

Brief rainfall this week does not mean the drought is over, Trotman said.

"They are assuming that's the end of the bad stuff," he said. "I am cautioning them because once the system moves out of the region, the status quo remains."

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