In the book Waterjager, author Chris Polanen paints a gloomy picture where the capital of Suriname, Paramaribo, is underwater. The streets have turned into creeks. The flats are completely under the water and the houses on stilts just stick out above it. Cars have been exchanged for canoes and boats. Only gold diggers, fishermen and prostitutes have remained in the inner city, which is governed by its own laws. This picture seems to be getting closer when we look at the developments regarding climate change in the world and Suriname.
The city center is flooded at the slightest and the flooding causes problems not only in the city center but also in large parts of the country. Houses are flooded, schools remain closed because classrooms are flooded and businesses cannot carry out their activities. Insufficient maintenance of drainage channels and drainage channels that are too small or missing lead to poorly functioning water drainage in Paramaribo.
Hydrologist Professor Sieuwnath Naipal has been working on his Mangrove project for several years now, in which thousands of mangrove trees have been planted on the coast in Nickerie, Coronie and Weg naar Zee. “The mangrove tree grows in salt water. The roots grow upwards and stick out of the ground like small posts. As a result, the clay settles, and you get land gain instead of erosion.”
Naipal’s aim is to restore the original natural coastal protection that has disappeared due to human activities in recent decades. However, according to Professor Max Huisden of the Environmental Sciences department at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname, it is only a matter of time before the coastal plain is flooded; unless enormously expensive infrastructural works, such as dams, dikes and locks, would be constructed along the entire coastline and the rivers that flow into it. The latter does not seem realistic at the moment, given the enormous investment and maintenance costs.
“We will have to move to higher areas because the water is just getting higher. As a country, we will have to prepare for this. Government policy must be aimed at starting to take precautionary measures and investing in, for example, building on higher-lying areas instead of low-lying areas that are already flooded when it rains. Society must also raise awareness that they should stop building, for example in Paramaribo-North. Now is the time to make major investments at strategic higher locations so that in ten to twenty years those areas south of Lelydorp and beyond will be ready in accordance with developments. ”
Flood caused by heavy rains and rising sea levels
An international study led by the University of Utrecht shows that if the earth warms up sharply, the upper limit of sea level rise will be lower than previously estimated. The upper limit in 2100 has been adjusted downwards by 30 centimeters compared to the level still assumed in the sixth Assessment Report of the UN climate panel IPCC. The researchers estimate that average global sea level rise could reach 1.3 to 1.6 meters by the end of this century. The prediction applies to scenarios with strong global warming. Despite this positive assessment, we notice that in Paramaribo, due to poor sewage systems and an increase in construction in which creeks and barrages are closed, water does not drain away quickly and it quickly accumulates. According to Ritesh Sardjoe, director of the Environment Directorate of the Ministry of Spatial Planning and the Environment, Suriname was hit again this year by heavy flooding on the coastal plain and the interior.
“That is because it rains a lot, and it is not the fault of the countries of the Caribbean. Spatial planning must come. We already have to start thinking about what will happen in a few years, because Paramaribo-North will come under stress. Now we experience that it is only getting worse. That is why we as a Caribbean region are making a strong case for adaptation and loss and damage.”
He agrees with Huisden that the investment you would make now by building in Paramaribo North is a waste of money in the long term.
President Chandrikapersad Santokhi has called on the rich countries that emit the most greenhouse gasses and are most responsible for global warming at COP 27 to finally honor their financial commitments. He indicated that many in the Caribbean are dealing with the effects of climate change on an almost daily basis. That is why the region needs support to include loss and damage as a third pillar in the climate financing structure.
“As soon as these funds become available, we also need to simplify procedures for accessing climate finance.” The assessment of applications must also be made more efficient and effective. “We cannot wait years to receive climate finance. Let’s make it simple, accessible and make it work. Let’s not create another international bureaucracy,” the president said.
He is aiming for climate justice, the term used to describe global warming as an ethical, political and legal issue, rather than a mere problem of the physical environment.
To this end, the impacts of climate change are compared to principles of environmental and social justice, such as equality, human rights, community and minority rights, and historical responsibility for climate change. One of the striking findings about climate justice is the fact that those least responsible for climate change often bear the brunt of it, both for individuals and countries. Climate change therefore affects people very unequally, depending on gender, race, political and social status, and place of residence.
Role of the Netherlands
Suriname wants to strengthen the political ties with the Netherlands that had cooled under the previous government. In addition, the former mother country will provide support to Suriname with regard to the issues that the country is facing, including climate change. Earlier this year, the Dutch government, the former colonizer of Suriname, sent water experts to Suriname to help the Surinamese government deal with the flooding the country was facing after months of exceptional rainfall. The cabinet decided to deploy the Dutch Risk Reduction Team to provide assistance to Suriname.
The flooding in Suriname lasted three months as a result of prolonged rain. For centuries, the Dutch have used the water to their advantage. This already started with living on mounds and the construction of dikes, dams and flood defenses. Then mills, pumping stations and steam engines were developed to reclaim land from the water. That perseverance and inventiveness has brought unprecedented benefits to the Netherlands and has ensured a strong reputation in the field of water management. The Netherlands can therefore provide Suriname with good support for its water problems.
Huisden: “Within the next five years it is also important that thorough precautions are taken to ensure that the revenues from Oil and Gas benefit the entire Surinamese society and that they are used, among other things, to make the country resilient against the effects of climate change.”
Sardjoe adds that Suriname will do even more research into climate change in the next five years.
“To make a case against rich countries, you have to show evidence. Capacity building is also a priority area, as is climate finance. As far as the latter is concerned, the negotiations are not going smoothly. External experts are therefore being recruited to help the country with this. And finally, we are working to increase awareness about climate change in society.”
This story was originally published by De Ware Tijd, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture of Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.