This is How the Caribbean Can Build Resilience to Climate Change


Above: remnants of an old pier and mangrove being inundated by rising sea level at Grenville Bay, Grenada (Photo: Marjo Aho)

By Vera Agostini
CJ Contributor

A FEW weeks ago, I attended the Global Forum on Community Resilience in Cali, Colombia, hosted by the International Federation of the Red Cross. It was a humbling experience for someone coming from an environmental conservation organization.

The currency was not of acres lost or trees protected, but of lives and livelihoods saved.

Conversations revolved around difficult themes like violence, war, disasters and the long hours spent trying to make a difference in the lives of people at risk. “Coalitions for resilience” was one of the central themes of the forum: partners coming together to help people address vulnerabilities that challenge communities across the world and help them become more resilient.

The underlying idea being that the most powerful, and frankly often the only way, to help communities adapt and cope with disasters and crises is for a range of partners to come together.

As the call for coalitions for resilience resonated throughout the meeting rooms, thoughts of The Nature Conservancy’s partnership in Grenada with the Red Cross helped me stay grounded.

They gave me some comfort that these partnerships can truly happen and yield inspiring results.

In 2004, category-three Hurricane Ivan ravaged the island of Grenada and others in the Caribbean, destroying homes, churches and businesses.

Many were left wondering how they could safely live along the water’s edge.

As a result of the impact of this storm and others throughout the Caribbean, the Conservancy partnered with Grenada Red Cross Society, University of New Hampshire and Grenada Fund for Conservation to assess the vulnerability of coastal communities and design an action plan to help the Grenville community, a small town located on the northeast coast of the island, become more resilient against storms and sea level rise.

This coalition, together with the people of Grenville, have started implementing a long list of actions, including planting mangroves and rebuilding a coral reef to help buffer the coastline from storms and facilitating social cohesiveness to help communities be more prepared to bounce back from storms. Grenville has become an action-oriented model for other Caribbean – and global – coastal communities facing threats from a changing climate.

But what is a resilient community?

Resilience typically refers to the ability of people to effectively respond and adapt to changing circumstances and develop the skill and capacity to deal with adversity.

Our partnership in Grenville is allowing us to effectively collaborate with families, community leaders, government and national, regional and global organizations to achieve resilience. For example, we are looking at ways to use natural infrastructure – such as mangroves and coral reefs – to increase the resilience of the Grenville community from future storms and sea level rise.

The Conservancy and the International Federation of the Red Cross are now working together to explore ways to extend the geographic scope of this program.

Given the international reach and unique strengths each organization, this could represent a great gain for global community resilience. This kind of positive, successful partnership gives me hope that we might just be able to help people become more resilient across the Caribbean.

Vera Agostini is a Senior Scientist with The Nature Conservancy’s Global Marine Team.