British Virgin Islands on drought watch with dramatic drop in rainfall


A dry hillside in eastern Tortola, BVI.

ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands, Sunday July 12, 2015 – With just 3.5 inches of rain for the first half of the year, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) has joined the growing list of Caribbean countries under drought watch.

A drought watch means that a drought is possible and governments are encouraged to take action to implement drought management plans which include the protection of water sources, implementation of conservation practices, and monitoring and repair of infrastructure to minimize water loss as a result of leakage.

According to the Department of Disaster Management (DDM), of the total 3.5 inches of rainfall for the January to June period, the majority occurred in January and February.

That is a significant reduction when compared to the same period last year when the British Overseas Territory saw 13.5 inches of rainfall.

“The foliage is significantly dry, creating difficulty for farmers in finding suitable pasture for their animals. The limited water supply is causing considerable reliance on subsidized feed which has to be imported. Government is examining ways to assist local farmers,” chief agricultural officer Bevin Braithwaite said, adding that the drought also forced the cancellation of the annual Mango Array & Tropical Fruit Festival.

The Virgin Islands Fire and Rescue Service has, however, not reported any significant increase in bush fires.

“This part of the season is drier than usual and temperatures are above normal. There is an indication that the heat is becoming uncomfortable for many residents, primarily children and the elderly.  It is important that these vulnerable groups are kept cool as they are most susceptible to the effects of heat,” said director of the Department of Disaster Management Sharleen DaBreo.

“With the drought watch now in place, residents are urged to conserve water and monitor their homes and businesses to ensure that leaks are detected and repairs made urgently.”

Many Caribbean islands are being affected by the drought conditions with Puerto Rico being among the worst hit by a water shortage that is affecting 1.5 million people. The government has been forced to impose strict rationing and use the local National Guard to distribute water and impose fines on persons and businesses which use the scarce water resources improperly.

A drought warning is also in place in St. Lucia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Dominica, Martinique and the western side of Belize.

Records indicate that this is the worst drought in the Caribbean in the past five years and there is concern that the impact on crops, livestock and reservoirs could worsen in the coming months.

The Caribbean Agricultural research and Development institute has reported that the drought has resulted in more than US$1 million in crop losses, tens of thousands of dollars in livestock losses and water systems are near collapse. In addition, many hotels are being affected and have curtailed water usage as a result of reservoirs being far below capacity.

Forecasters have indicated that the intense dry conditions are as a result of El Niño, a phenomenon which results in the warming of the tropical Pacific and affects global weather patterns.

Experts had previously indicated that El Niño will cause a quieter than normal hurricane season with shorter periods of rainfall. The few tropical disturbances that have formed have not had any significant effects on water supply.

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