On September 23, 2017, when Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit stood before the UN General Assembly, he declared that The Commonwealth of Dominica would become the world’s first climate resilient nation. Now, in 2023, Dominica has capabilities they’ve never had before including functioning hydromet and seismic networks, essential geospatial data, and a platform on which to share that and other data. Capabilities like these and others are a game changer and will serve as a springboard to using hazard data for risk-based decision making in development plans.
The island of Dominica, located in the Eastern Caribbean archipelago between Martinique and Guadeloupe, is mountainous with steep, rugged topography. This geophysical profile has led much of the nation’s human settlements to be concentrated along narrow, relatively flat, coastal areas, which are exceedingly vulnerable to hurricanes as well as high-intensity rainfall, wind, and storm surge events. Dominica has faced several devastating climate events which destroyed infrastructure, private property, and also cost lives. The most notorious of these events was Hurricane Maria which struck the country on September 18, 2017—one of the most rapidly intensifying storms in recent history, escalating to a category 5 hurricane within 24 hours of being upgraded from a tropical storm. The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) for Hurricane Maria concluded damages and losses totaled US$1.3 billion, some 226% of Dominica’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Our devastation is so complete that our recovery has to be total. And so we have a unique opportunity to be an example to the world, an example of how an entire nation rebounds from disaster and how an entire nation can be climate resilient for the future. We did not choose this opportunity… Having had it thrust upon us, we have chosen actively and decisively to be that example to the world.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit
He was speaking at the UN General Assembly in September 2017
Dominica was already on the trajectory of climate resilience before this declaration was made. In September 2014, the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica embarked upon the Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project (DVRP) funded by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), the Climate Investment Fund’s (CIF) Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) Strategic Climate Fund (SCF); and the government.
The Caribbean’s vulnerability to climate impacts is such that building resilience is no longer optional. The World Bank’s work within the region supports countries’ efforts to reduce their susceptibility, through projects such as this one in the Commonwealth of Dominica. Rehabilitating key infrastructure, relying on data, ensuring the most vulnerable are considered and enhancing local capacity, among others, are all central to the Caribbean’s ability to weather future storms.
Country Director, The World Bank
In Dominica, there was a scarcity of practical and comprehensive data which could be utilized for infrastructure planning and design. Additionally, there was the need to enhance institutional capabilities to effectively manage emergencies arising from disasters caused by natural hazards. The project was specifically created to tackle these needs, focusing on constructing resilient infrastructure that can withstand the impact of disasters and climate risks, as well as hazard data information systems to support decision making, risk reduction and emergency response. As the project enters its final year of implementation, the team takes a retrospective look at its successes and the positive impact on Dominica and its people.
1. Infrastructure and data systems for disaster risk management
Before the DVRP, Dominica's hydromet monitoring capability was limited to two airports on the east and west coasts of the country which provided minimal information about the spatial distribution and variability of rainfall and water flows. Under the DVRP, the hydromet network was expanded to 44 automatic weather stations, rain gauges, and water level sensors covering all areas of the island. This extensive coverage now allowed for the recording of localized heavy rainfall events, a common occurrence in Dominica. During a trough system in November 2022, the new network detected that 500mm of rain fell in the Southeast over a two-day period. These instruments continued to transmit data on the impact of the storm. captured the degree of storm surge experienced on the coasts, and allow for real-time tracking of hydrometeorological systems and seismic events to inform disaster preparedness and other planning
The receiver and processor for the incoming data is the Dominica Meteorological Services (DMS) headquarter building, also constructed under the DVRP. The DMS has responsibility for weather forecasting and other meteorological services which require a well-equipped office building with advanced instrumentation and communications equipment to transmit rainfall and seismic date to early warning systems and other uses. With a concrete roof, a backup power system, and windows outfitted with hurricane shutters, the building was designed to withstand both major earthquakes and category 5 hurricanes. Furthermore, it has amenities for 24-hour weather monitoring and subsequent operation of the emergency response center.
The seismic monitoring network, operated by the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center (UWI-SRC), which detects seismic activity across Dominica, was damaged and inoperable after Hurricane Maria. Equipment purchased under the DVRP restored the monitoring network, and advances in connectivity and contingency planning ensure its sustainability and resilience to weather events. Dominica is one of the most seismically and volcanically active islands in the Caribbean, and having continuously operable monitoring systems is critical to disaster preparedness planning initiatives.
The DVRP also funded critical geospatial data collection, including aerial mapping using LiDAR for topography and bathymetry, high-resolution cameras for red/green/blue (RGB) and infrared imagery, and a national soil survey. These investments have greatly improved the ability to accurately assess the exposure of population and infrastructure to hazards. This data will be housed within another DVRP investment Dominode, the country’s Geographic Information System (GIS) repository. Outputs have, for example, been used to create detailed hydraulic models for the design of bridges.
Dominica is also preparing enabling legislation for data sharing and data privacy through Dominica’s Climate Resilient Executing Agency of Dominica (CREAD) and facilitating the creation of a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Unit. Dissemination of hydromet data was also improved with the creation of a portal which allows access to data collected by the new network on a nearly real-time basis. Integration of these datasets has proven valuable for the design of resilient infrastructure and the improvement of early warning and emergency response systems. There is untapped potential for environmental models to assist in spatial planning and risk management. Integration of the hydromet data with international climate models can also increase the understanding of the dynamics of climate change in the Eastern Caribbean.
The complementary activities have enhanced Dominica’s data collection, coordination and management for disaster management and risk reduction.
2. Ensuring continuous access to water throughout the island
In 2020, eight water tanks along the western coast of the island were constructed serving 20 communities and 11,000 direct beneficiaries, or 15 percent of the national population, and increasing water storage capacity by over 1 million liters. Following Hurricane Maria, sections of the new water distribution system and its access roads were upgraded using improved construction techniques and material to augment their resilience to recurring disasters. Access to clean water was challenging after Hurricane Maria, and these investments ensure that water supply will not be interrupted in recovery efforts or droughts.
3. Strengthened efforts for building nature-based solutions (NBS) and forest conservation.
Dominica is known as “the Nature Island” and is globally renowned for its lush forests, a main attraction for nature tourists. However, Dominica’s beautiful, mountainous, and rugged landscape also creates significant engineering challenges in reducing infrastructure vulnerability to disasters and climate change. The landscape is prone to landslides, and during a significant rainfall event in November 2022, 11 large landslides impact transportation networks and communities. The DVRP is incorporating NBS along the East Coast Road (ECR) in Dominica in the ongoing construction of resilient infrastructure. The project is partnering with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Forestry Division to cultivate and maintain native plants that can complement other hard infrastructure interventions for slope stabilization. This activity builds upon the forestry nursery facilities which also were expanded under the DVRP to improve the nursery capacities of the Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division for the propagation and evaluation of planting stock for forestry uses. Improvements included rehabilitation of existing support infrastructure including buildings, planting sheds, irrigation, storage sheds and related infrastructure.
4. Improved access to indigenous populations for more resilient economies.
The DVRP is widening and refurbishing 31 km of the ECR with a goal of increasing resilience to extreme weather events and improving connectivity. Rehabilitation efforts entail substantial slope and landslide stabilization, flood mitigation activities along the entire corridor, bridge protection and replacement, expansion of road width, and mitigation of river erosion along the road embankments. In total, 5 bridges, 77 culverts, 22 retaining walls and 607 m of new drains are under construction. This road is important to Dominica’s physical and socio-economic resilience because it provides an alternate route to the airport, access to tourist sites, and transportation routes for agricultural products and the indigenous Kalinago tribe. ECR serves as a key vehicle for the government’s response to the many severe weather events which have occurred over the last several years.
5. Improved human capital
An essential component in resilience is enhanced local capacity to assess the country’s hazard exposure and make data-informed decisions toward risk mitigation. In this regard, the DVRP has supported training of government staff and private sector professional associations to ensure the sustainability and use of its investments in risk reduction. One of the key ways in which these investments have assisted in response and recovery efforts is through a training on tracking real time flood information to inform future transportation infrastructure investments. This training activity collected flood high-water marks in affected communities, which, combined with radar data, were used to determine island-wide rainfall total estimates as well as peak discharge and water levels. The results of these investigations were published in the Journal of Hydrology in 2016 and have been used in the design of new bridges and other hydraulic structures post-Tropical Storm Erika, including the ECR and new bridges in Roseau.
Additionally, the DVRP has supported the purchase of surveying equipment and software, and training on its use, for the Technical Services Division of the Ministry of Public Works. This equipment, which included high-accuracy laser scanners, allowed engineers and surveyors to quickly map areas impacted by storms and design bypasses, retention walls, and other structures necessary for the reopening of transportation corridors. As the project comes to a close, further training is planned for the DMS to increase capacity in maintenance and use of recently purchased hydromet instrumentation.
The Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project (DVRP) has through its four components delivered a comprehensive response to Dominica’s natural hazards and climate change vulnerabilities. The project is congruent with all three pillars of the National Resilient Development Strategy namely, Climate Resilient Systems, Prudent Disaster Risk Management, and Effective Disaster Response and Recovery.
CEO of CREAD, July 2023
Overall, the DVRP has been crucial in assisting response and recovery efforts in Dominica, as well as in enhancing the existing mapping information available and improving the ability to accurately assess the exposure of population and infrastructure to hazards. The data collected continues to be used in the design of infrastructure for projects beyond the DVRP. These investments have greatly improved the ability of Dominica to quantify the impacts of climate change and adapt to these impacts through improved infrastructure and risk management. This proves that an ambitious project is possible to implement in a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) context, and given the increasingly dire prognosis around the impacts of climate change, ambitious projects need to become the norm.