The small island developing state of Saint Kitts and Nevis is already experiencing some of the effects of climate variability and change, including damage caused by an increase in average atmospheric temperature, a reduction in average annual rainfall, and the potential for an increase in the intensity of tropical storms.
Given that rainfall is the sole source of water in St. Kitts and Nevis, and with water demand expected to double in the next ten years due to tourism and agriculture, securing access to both a sustainable water system and a drought prevention system is crucial for the livelihoods of the island communities.
Water availability for agriculture and livelihoods was not a major issue in the small island state until 2015 when the first drought occurred. The drought called for immediate action and the development of a long-term strategy to build resilience against the impacts of climate change.
“The 2015 drought was a wakeup call for Saint Kitts and Nevis, prior to that the country had never experienced water security issues.” Cheryl Jeffers, Ministry of Environment, Climate Action and Constituency Empowerment, Saint Kitts and Nevis
According to data from the national Meteorological Service, Saint Kitts and Nevis is currently experiencing the driest rainy season on record. In August, the average rainfall of 741.8, dropped to 594.1 in 2022, and further decreased to 472.1 in August 2023.
“June to November used to be our rainy season. During these months rainfalls would replenish our wells and water reservoirs, which would then grant us water during the dry season. This balance has been broken, and we are now facing frequent and severe droughts”, explained Vincere Benjamin, St. Kitts Met Services.
In response to the early stages of the drought, Saint Kitts and Nevis took several water conservation measures, including repairing leaks, installing cisterns, implementing water rationing, and developing water management contingency plans. To develop a long-term strategy to address climate change impacts, Saint Kitts and Nevis partnered with the CTCN (Climate Technology Centre and Network) to incorporate drought risk modeling as a planning tool for climate change adaptation measures.
CTCN, through its network partner HR Wallingford and Saint Kitts and Nevis Department of Environment, designed a system that combines and analyses several dataset and technologies, which feed into a drought forecasting tool which supports climate change adaptation measures and decision-making.
The technical assistance relied on the involvement of the members of a committed stakeholder working group with experts from the Department of Environment, the Water Services, The Agriculture Departments, The Meteorological Services, the Department of Physical Planning- GIS Office, the Disaster Management Agency, and Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College.
All hands-on deck for water supply resilience
The project implementation built on the following activities:
- Hazard mapping solutions: to pin and highlight areas that are affected by or are vulnerable to drought.
- Water resource assessment: to determine the status and future trends in both water resources and water supply services, with a particular focus on availability and demand.
- Open-source climate data and tools: free to use satellite data, hydrological models, seasonal weather forecasts.
- Hydrological modelling: to simplify a real-world system that aids in understanding, predicting, and managing water resources.
- Early warning systems communication: an integrated system of drought monitoring, forecasting and communication that enables government stakeholders to take timely action to reduce drought risks.
These activities fed into a) a drought risk and water resources assessment in Saint Kitts and Nevis, b) the benchmark, design and implementation of a drought forecasting system, and c) a training series for administrators and users of the drought prediction model in St. Kitts.
In addition, the project identified areas and vulnerable groups, including smallholder farmers, and the tourism sector, most susceptible to water supply shortages. Women and youth were also actively engaged in the implementation phase through training and stakeholder consultations.
Drought risk modelling, how does it work?
The comprehensive drought forecasting system created through CTCN's technical assistance combines data from Earth Observations (EO) satellite imagery, land surface model simulations, weather and climate forecasting, hydrological data, and hydrological modeling. Climate forecasts, ranging from monthly to seasonal timescales, are used to drive a hydrological model. The outputs, combined with EO datasets, are translated into indicators of water stress, including commonly used drought indicators such as the Standardized Precipitation Index. The system generates monthly forecasts of water stress while calibrating results against historical data.
Data and patterns are analyzed to produce a reliable forecast and risk map, which feeds into a visualization tool to assist stakeholders in making data-informed decisions. The model also serves as an alert system for emergencies and the activation of contingency plans. By providing timely information in advance of, or during the early onset of a drought, action can be taken to reduce potential impacts and enhance resilience.
“Thanks to the support of CTCN, we are now moving towards a comprehensive national plan for water management. This plan integrates all available hydrological and meteorological data, monitors consumption, and raises awareness of available tools and practices for water storage and reduction of consumption, both for farming and households. By securing water, we are building resilience and securing a future for the people of these islands," concluded Cheryl Jeffers from the Ministry of Environment, Climate Action, and Constituency Empowerment.
Leveraging the outcomes of this technical assistance, CTCN network member HR Wallingford is developing a Water Information System for the islands and building on the Drought forecasting system, funded by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).