Several Caribbean nations are battling prolonged low rainfall that is hurting residents and economic sectors. And the pattern could continue for some weeks yet, according to forecasters. The drought has been affecting countries from Jamaica to Guyana, as consumers and farmers battle a shortage of water. St Lucia, the latest to report a crisis, is said to be ready to declare "a water-related emergency".
Drought-like conditions are not uncommon at this time of year in the Eastern Caribbean in particular. But the situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the low rainfall began in October, the wettest month in the sub-region. "To have a significant depletion of rainfall in October would have an impact," said Adrian Trotman of the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology(CMIH).

Dam levels drop

The institute constantly monitors precipitation to detect periods of high and low rainfall and advises governments and sectors accordingly. "We are anticipating that this spell should go all the way down to March and possibly beyond," he told BBC Caribbean.

In St Lucia, the John Compton Dam which supplies the north of the island, has seen it levels drop by a foot per day, according to officials.

The managing director of the state-owned Water and Sewerage Company, John Joseph, described the situation as critical. The company was already rationing supplies and are considering importing water. Farmers in Guyana are crying out as well. The important rice industry is forecasting that production will be down by 6% because there is insufficent water for irrigation of fields.

Flammable

Officials in Georgetown say their dry spell has been influenced by the climate phenomenon El Niño.

Other countries experiencing drought to varying degrees include Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica and Grenada.

In Barbados, bush fires, triggered by flammable dry conditions and aided by high wind speeds, have soared,

The online newspaper, Barbados Today, quoted the local Fire Service as saying they had responded to 587 grass fires, up from 35 last year.

This has meant the unhelpful diversion of water from domestic sources to fight fires.

Jamaica's Water Minister, Horace Chang, said the National Water Commission was losing an estimated J$200 million (US$2.2 million) per month in revenue as a result of the drought.

Preparation

Countries have been implementing various measures to control water use, including forbidding people to water lawns or wash vehicles.

In Trinidad, a contractor was fired after he watered the lawn at the Prime Minister's residence.

A riot at a prison in Kingston, Jamaica this month was said to have been caused partly by anger over a water shortage at the facility.

The CIMH's Adrian Trotman said some Caribbean nations need to practice more long-term preparation for drought, particularly in the harvesting of water.

"(For example) how do we take the abundance of wet season rainfall and store that for drier times, how much do we need for farming?"

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