Just over a year ago, the impact of climate change was felt severely by residents of Bamboo Village in Cedros when accelerated coastal erosion caused two homes and a large chunk of the roadway to collapse into the sea. In the aftermath of that event, a once thriving rural community has disappeared and residents have been located to another district in south-west Trinidad
A precipice in that now deserted area serves as a chilling reminder of the dangers of climate change for small island development states (SIDS) like ours.
The Bamboo Village environmental disaster is not by any stretch an isolated incident. In fact, residents of coastal communities across T&T regularly find themselves on the front lines of the worsening ecological catastrophe affecting this country because of global warming.
Sea levels across the region have been rising at a rate of two millimetres every year due to higher ocean temperatures that are the primary cause of the more frequent and intense storms and hurricanes. While most of these cyclonic events don't make landfall in T&T, this country experiences their long-term catastrophic effects, mainly through the heightened affected wave energy which triggers the rapid land erosion now seen in so many parts of the country.
Manzanilla, once a picturesque coastal area lined with coconut trees, now bears the scars of climate change, with the encroaching sea steadily eating away at the beachfront. A few miles down that coast, in Guayaguayare, the sea wall is crumbling into the sea and residents there live in fear of losing their homes.
The reality of climate change demands a level of preparedness from this country's disaster management and response units that seems to be lacking if the experiences of citizens affected by the devastating floods late last year are anything to go by.
Evidence suggests that there is insufficient hydrological and maritime data to properly assess the extent of the damage already inflicted on T&T as a result of these climate events, far less to inform long-term strategies for the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) and the various first responders.
To avoid repeating those well-documented failures in the timing and level of response to natural disasters, however, it is essential that the relevant agencies and policymakers develop more effective systems for policy support, planning strategies, and contingency mapping.
Given ongoing challenges with funding, public-private partnerships in the areas of climate change and disaster preparedness should be considered to ensure the best available resources, creativity, expertise, and innovation are available.
The need for coastal management in a sustainable manner is no longer an option but a vital necessity because we are now living on shrinking islands.