Economic and social development in the Caribbean has been accompanied by a significant environmental impact. In the Caribbean region, the greatest impact has been felt in the forests. Apart from the forests of the Great Antilles, the most important forests in the Caribbean Basin are located in the continental Caribbean countries. It is estimated, for example, that the CARICOM countries collectively have 32.7 million hectares of forests, most of which are located in Guyana, Suriname and Belize. Guyana is, in fact, one of the countries with the highest percentage of forested land, with 18 million hectares of forests that represent nearly 95% of its total national territory. Although the domestic use of wood for cooking is common in many sectors of Guyana society, it is estimated that the greatest environmental impact on the forests comes from commercial activities related to agriculture, mining, and the timber industry. Guyana has an annual deforestation rate of 0.06%.

But perhaps the greatest environmental impact is global in nature and is not directly associated with economic development. As a result of global warming, increased temperatures have an adverse effect not only on forests, but also on the coral reefs that are part of the islands’ tourist attractions, which is an important sector of the economy. The increased temperatures caused by global warming have a direct effect by disrupting forest ecosystems, reducing biodiversity, impacting the life cycle of trees and affecting water quality.

But perhaps the greatest threat to the Caribbean islands from climate change is the high rate of natural disasters in the region, which is associated with climate change at a global level. The economic impact of these natural disasters is significant for the Caribbean islands. This is particularly true for the small islands. According to the United Nations Development Program and the Inter-American Development Bank, the cost of climactic disasters in the Latin America and Caribbean region exceeds $5 billion annually, and $1.4 billion for the Caribbean island region. In the Caribbean islands, the effect of disasters on a small island can be seen clearly in the case of Haiti, which was hit by a level 7 earthquake in January, 2010, followed by the passage of Hurricane Tomas in November of the same year. But the problem is a global problem that has a significant impact on underdeveloped and emerging economies. According to estimates by the World Bank, these emerging countries will need between $75 billion and $100 billion in annual aid to deal with natural disasters.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: March 20, 2012.

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