Nearly 15 years ago, a World Bank disaster risk management team went to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia to work at the beach -- literally. Based on scientific evidence, they set off, together with the government, to counter erosion and rebuild the beaches. The result, the construction of two submerged offshore structures, designed to break up incoming waves and capture sand. Today, 15 meters of beach in the area have been restored.
This success story is part of an effort to tackle the Caribbean coastal erosion. Due to rising sea levels and recurring storms, most Caribbean nations have been seeing their beaches disappear. In some areas of St. Vincent, for instance, an estimated 18-30 meters of beach have been lost over the last nine years. The highly vulnerable coastal strand and adjacent towns are fighting against increased flood risk from rainfall and storm surge.
The issue of challenges faced by small islands around the world was at the center of this week’s 3rd Small Island Developing States conference held in Samoa. The overarching theme of the conference was sustainable development in view of these states’ unique and particular vulnerabilities.
Back in the late 1990s, coastal erosion and beach losses were threatening a fishing village on the east coast of St. Lucia. To address the issue, the World Bank, through the Emergency Recovery and Disaster Management Project (1998-2003), supported detailed scientific investigations to identify how nature was really behaving. From those investigations, designs were developed not just to stop the erosion but to re-grow the beach.
“You can’t fight nature, you must work together with it,” said Jerry Meier, a World Bank climate change expert. Adding another level of science to the process, computer simulations were used to test the designs before embarking on their construction. “When the project first built the structures, you had to swim to get to the first barrier. Now, you can walk to it,” explained Meier.
And the beaches are not the only concern. Caribbean ports are also at risk from rising sea levels. Built in colonial times, many sea ports, such as Castries, St. Lucia; St. Georges, Grenada; Kingstown, St Vincent, are suffering from the increasing threat of flooding, in part due to rising sea level. In island states, ports are the economic heart of the country, typically the capital and the island center of commerce.
Airports too are affected. Typically built in flat coastal areas, airports such as Melville Hall, Dominica; Maurice Bishop, Grenada; and Hewannorrah, St Lucia, are dealing with increased flood risk and sea level rise.