Record-Breaking Heat in Latin America and the Caribbean

The coastal village of Scotts Head, Dominica: The 2023 State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean report is calling for robust early warning systems to safeguard small island developing states from rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

By Alison Kentish (IPS)

HAVANA TIMES – Every year for the last four years, a collaborative effort involving scientists and other experts has assessed the state of the climate in Latin America and the Caribbean. The findings have revealed increasingly alarming trends for the world’s second-most disaster-prone region.

The latest report by the World Meteorological Organization published on May 8, confirmed that 2023 was the hottest year on record. The Atlantic region experienced a rapid rise in sea levels, surpassing the global average and threatening the coastlines of several small island developing states. The spike in temperatures hit agriculture hard, worsening food insecurity, while wildlife populations suffered. Meanwhile, heavy rainfall triggered floods and landslides, with significant fatalities and economic losses across the region. 

“In all types of climatic and environmental variables, records were broken during the year 2023. In terms of the amount of heat in the ocean, sea level rise, ice loss in the Antarctic Sea and the retreat of  glaciers, Latin America and the Caribbean have been seriously affected by the effects of El Niño, which are of course added to those of climate change induced by human presence,” said Professor Celeste Saulo, WMO Secretary General.

The report highlighted Category 5 Hurricane Otis, which hit near Acapulco, Mexico, as one of the strongest hurricanes on record in the Eastern Pacific. It also underscored the impacts of heavy rainfall, such as the deadly landslide in Sao Sebastiao, Brazil, and noted that the Negro River in the Amazon hit record low levels, while low water levels restricted shop traffic in the Panama Canal.

“In 2023, around 11 million people in the region were affected by disasters. Out of all these, climate-related disasters were the majority, resulting in over 20 billion US dollars in economic losses,” Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Paola Albrito, told the report’s launch.

“We are unfortunately seeing this play out now in Brazil, where devastating floods have taken almost 100 lives and displaced over 160,000 people to date.”

Albrito told the launch that in order to meet their commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals, countries must reduce the burden of disasters.

“This starts by accelerating the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, in line with the agreed Regional Action Plan, which was updated last year,” she stated.

The UN Disaster risk official is calling for integrated disaster risk reduction into development financing to close funding gaps. Presently, just 1% of official development assistance in Latin America and the Caribbean goes towards disaster prevention.

She urged countries in this Region to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the UN Secretary General’s Early Warnings for All Initiative to enhance multi-hazard warning systems and emphasized the importance of heightened collaboration in disaster preparedness and risk management between the European Union and Latin American and Caribbean intergovernmental organizations to improve response mechanisms and enhance resilience to natural disasters.

The report acknowledges progress made in using meteorological data for health surveillance, particularly in disease monitoring, citing it as a “move towards stronger public health strategies.” The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of this area and the need to address gaps in disease surveillance.

“Climate change is a threat to global health that directly and indirectly affects health, well-being, and health equity. It exacerbates existing public health challenges in the Americas, such as food and water insecurity, air pollution, and the transmission of vector-borne diseases,” said Dr. Jarba Barbosa, Director of the Pan American Health Organization.

One of Barbosa’s first actions as PAHO Director was the relaunch of an initiative for the elimination of more than 30 diseases and health conditions from countries in the Americas. He says social and environmental conditions contribute significantly to elimination efforts, but climate change continues to challenge experts’ understanding of the epidemiology of many of those diseases.

“This is why member states have asked PAHO to develop a new policy to strengthen action of the health sector to respond to climate change with equity. This will be presented to our governing bodies in 2024, so that the Region of the Americas can have climate resilient and low carbon health systems, adopting a climate justice approach to increase equity in health,” he said.

The collaborative effort behind the 4th State of the Climate report involved over 30 national meteorological and hydrological services and regional climate centres, 60 scientists and experts and the support of organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Pan American Health Organization.

Partners say the report is a valuable resource to enhance regional risk knowledge and provides critical benchmarks for countries to better understand and address the growing climate risks they face.

Read more feature articles here on Havana Times.

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