By Aniel Sookhan and Simran Ali
This story is a combination of two posts by members of Cari-Bois’ first cohort of youth journalists, who examined the ways in which climate change affects each of their communities. The articles were first published here and here on the Cari-Bois Environmental News Network. An edited version appears below as part of a content-sharing agreement.
In its 2021 Groundswell report, the World Bank estimated that climate change could force 216 million people to migrate to different areas within their own country by 2050, while an Institute for Economics and Peace think tank predicted that a billion people could be displaced by that time.
Though the exact number of climate migrants may be uncertain, the effects of climate change as a catalyst for humanitarian disasters that can trigger a global migration crisis are being recognised. As a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Trinidad and Tobago isn’t immune to climate migration; for some, it is already a reality.
In 2022, Daveanad Lutchman, a resident of Eccles Village, decided to leave the south-central community because of the frequent flooding. Residents would cope with the situation by moving their belongings to higher ground, but when Lutchman's house was severely damaged, all his household appliances washed away, and his two dogs killed during a flood in November 2022, he reached his limit. After repeated financial losses, he decided the situation was no longer sustainable and he now lives in the capital, Port of Spain.
With the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) warning that climate change will continue to exacerbate the intensity of floods across Trinidad and Tobago during the wet season, Lutchman's former neighbours are bracing themselves for more floods, which he says have got worse in recent years.
Similarly, in the rural community of Fifth Company Village, Moruga, the integrity of roadways has been compromised, partly because of increasing amounts of rainfall. Fifty-eight-year-old Tasheen Ali, a longtime resident of the area, recalls that thunderstorms used to be much less frequent during the rainy season (June-December) when he was growing up in the village. In fact, it was quite the opposite — they were often welcomed, as they provided much-needed relief from the warm temperatures during dry spells.
However, in the last 10 years alone, Ali explained, both the frequency and severity of thunderstorms have led to an increase in the occurrence of landslips. As a result, residents have been calling on authorities to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure.
In its first biennial report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Planning and Development highlighted the current realities of climate change, noting:
Trinidad and Tobago is already experiencing the advertised impacts of climate changes, such as the sea level rise, the increased ambient temperature and extreme weather systems.
While the country’s climate has been historically variable, the report confirmed that climate change has accelerated the rates of those variations and increased the average temperatures. Trinidad and Tobago's recorded temperatures in 2019 were almost double what they were in 1946.
Despite these environmental changes, Ali claims that in all his decades of living in the village, there have been little to no infrastructural upgrades and he is concerned that the village's current drainage system is no longer able to manage the volume of water passing through it:
You can’t stop the sun and rain, but we need [to] better balance [how we respond]. Heavy rain has been more frequent and when the rainy season comes, there is fierce rain damage to a lot of properties and the crops of farmers, too.
Like other residents, Ali wants the authorities — in both local and central government — to invest in proper drainage to help avoid the over-saturation of soil; erect retention walls to prevent landslides along precipices, and dredge water courses to minimise pooling and flooding. He acknowledges, however, that citizens and businesses will also have to get involved to reduce the effects of climate change.
In the case of Eccles Village, for instance, the flooding problem was compounded by the fact that Daveanad Lutchman’s house was located near a slope that was experiencing a landslip — a situation that threatened the stability of the land on which his former home stood and as a result, the structural integrity of the house.
Editor's note: Public education and the enforcement of existing legislation must also play a role in mitigating the effects of the climate crisis. It is common knowledge that much of the flooding that has taken place in recent years in Trinidad and Tobago has been exacerbated by everything from littering to illegal developments. The country's current rainy season has recorded record high temperatures and less rainfall than expected, with the meteorological office issuing a Hot Spell Warning for the period September 15-19, 2023.