According to the research report ‘State of the climate in Suriname’ published by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Suriname is threatened by undeniable challenges.
As a low-lying coastal state, Suriname is highly sensitive to natural disasters and climate change, a fact reiterated by the report “State of the climate in Suriname”.
The anticipated one meter sea level rise in Suriname could have a direct impact on 6.4 percent of gross domestic product , 7 percent of the population, and 5.6 percent of agricultural land in the country. These facts should ring the alarm bells for the government to work on effective and realistic plans that strengthen resilience to climate change. In the meantime, this has happened to some extent. However, the implementation of these plans seems to encounter several challenges.
Not having finance to tackle climate change means, for example, that areas that were not flooded ten years ago, such as parts of the inner and coastal sections, will be gone. Ten to fifteen years ago there were not as many heavy gusts as occur in Suriname today.
One of the goals that the government pursues is to move the communities in the interior of Suriname to higher areas. However, this has been met with protests from the local communities. Giving rise to the idea that the Northern part of the Capital of Suriname, Paramaribo could be gone if there is no action taken against the rising sea level or measurements such as dams to protect it.
“There are numerous plans. But implementation of these plans encounters a number of challenges,” says Gina Griffith, lawyer and head of the Legal Department at the National Institute for Environmental Development in Suriname.
She is referring, among other things, to the 2020 Nationally Determined Contributions of Suriname. This extensive 40-page plan includes the climate mitigation and adaptation goals set by the Paris Agreement which the state wants to achieve.
Griffith emphasizes that these policy goals were further modified by the government not so long ago and that they are ready to be implemented. However, due to lack of money and qualified people, it is almost impossible to realize these projects.
“We are a small country with very few people who specialise in this field. The people who could do these kinds of projects have other commitments,” the head of NIMOS states.
There are a few reasons for this problem. One of them is the fact that awareness of climate change and its effects is still on the low side in Suriname. Few people specialise in the field, yes, but this is compounded by the fact that the government is not really investing in these kinds of studies or education programmes to increase climate change sensitisation among the public.
Another issue is the fact that Suriname has been suffering from a financial crisis for a few years now, as a result of which many professionals are moving abroad. And added to this, corruption has greatly weakened many authorities and institutions that could help with the writing and implementation of these plans.
Challenges to access to financing
She further emphasises that the implementation of these plans is expensive. However, access to financing is very difficult.
“It is very difficult for developing countries to have access to financing. The requirements are sometimes so complicated that you just don’t want to start,” says Griffith.
According to the lawyer, those who want to receive financing for the implementation of their climate plans, work extremely hard on the proposal only to hear in the end that their request has not been approved.
“That’s very frustrating. The formats for project proposals sometimes make it feel as though you have to write a PhD thesis. That’s how much information is required,” Griffith says.
She further notes that this is a problem that particularly many developing countries complain about. According to her, the challenges that Suriname faces in regards to the implementation of these plans are almost the same problems that other poor countries have to deal with.
As an example, she mentioned governments that lack a lot and people who are not motivated by, for example, crises.
Griffith stated that “These are challenges we also face when it comes to development. These obstacles make the implementation of plans very difficult.” Nevertheless, she admits that besides the complicated matters, there are easier aspects with which the government might be able to start.
“What is missing is the execution aspect. The government should focus more on that. As a state, this is what we have to place our energy into now.”
The easier aspects to which she refers are, for example, awareness campaigns through state media or seminars about climate change that do not require much money
Patrick Kensenhuis, member of the permanent committee for Spatial Planning and Environment (ROM) of the National Assembly, says that he is not satisfied with the activities that the government is undertaking to protect the community from the effects of climate change. For example, no actions have been taken to protect against floods, which have been increasing in intensity and frequency.
The northern part of Suriname is low-lying and not intended for habitation, but the government continues to give permission for construction and gives away building plots in that area.
“Just look at what is happening in the northern part of Suriname. That area is very sensitive and we stand to lose it, but we do not see concrete actions being taken,” complains Kensenhuis. He is therefore eagerly awaiting the intended plans of the Ministry of Spatial Planning and the Environment, that will be presented during the upcoming state budget debate. He is also preparing to make a strong case on climate change during the state’s budget discussions.
“Suriname is not a country that suffers from major natural disasters, but we should not turn a blind eye to the climate changes that are currently occurring in the world. We have to prepare ourselves well for the possibilities.”
He no longer sees major floods and heavy gusts as something that can be ignored. As a member of the Spatial Planning and Environment permanent committee of ROM, he would therefore like to see the implementation of the mitigation and adaptation plans.
“Our plans are good on paper but we have to work on the implementation of these projects. Otherwise, we will lose out on what is most important,” warns Kensenhuis.
He emphasised that many more floods and other climate issues can be expected in the near future. In his view, access to financing needs to be addressed because there are enough international funds where Suriname can apply for funding. Knowing that Suriname is one of the greenest countries, the government should be more aggressive in the quest for financing.
“The contribution we make to the world with our forests is enormous. But what do we get in return,” the parliamentarian wonders. According to him, the fact that the processes can sometimes be very complicated should not be an obstacle. “The government just has to do everything in its power to get the funding,” says Kensenhuis.
Raised awareness and involvement to fight challenges
Both Kensenhuis and Griffith admit that there is a lack of education and information about climate change and the consequences that this can have for Suriname.
“Often enough, we see that policymakers only intervene when something has happened. The government is not doing much preventive work,” says the parliamentarian. He refers to the recent floods in the interior of Suriname, where the government only came in with emergency aid for the victims and nothing else.
In addition, it is also good to hear from the community more and to take their insights into account when making the plans.
“In my district of Para, for example, I have noticed that the plans come directly from the top of the government without involving the local communities. The involvement of the people is extremely important,” says Kensenhuis. According to him, these are small matters that are particularly important for the effective implementation of Suriname’s climate plans.
This story was originally published by DWT Online, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.