Dr. Samuel Rawlins
The Caribbean experienced one of the worst outbreaks of Dengue Fever ever in 2007. Given that the Aedes aegypti mosquito is ever-present in our region and that Dengue is endemic throughout, it is a wonder that there have not been more regular outbreaks of the disease region-wide. The question to be asked, then, is why all of a sudden? There is only one clear answer to this: Climate Change.
Casual observation over the past decade would have indicated that climate patterns have been indeed changing so this should not be at all surprising. One of the harsh manifestations of that has been more frequent hurricanes and tropical storms, increased rainfall and severe flooding events of hitherto unforeseen proportions.
The rainy season too has seemingly gotten longer, so much so that November 30 no longer marks the end of the Atlantic Hurricane season for a region wary about the potential for infrastructural collapse if guards are let down and the oddest of Hurricanes happens to strike in December.
Regardless, all of the scientific pointers lead straight to Climate Change. The globe is simply warming too fast! And humans are the cause of this. The simple truth is that even a one degree increase in temperatures in the Caribbean can wreak havoc. Thus, “(we) need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases,” Dr. Samuel Rawlins, Professor Emeritus at the Caribbean Research and Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) told the Trinidad Express.
There may be a debate as regards the extent of Global Warming, but there can be no issue with the simple fact the earth’s atmosphere is being filled up with carbon emissions that are destroying the ozone layer and subjecting mankind to heat waves that are taking lives and rising sea levels that threaten to reclaim low-lying lands, even entire islands. As these things to come to pass, the tourism product of already vulnerable Third World economies are being adversely affected.
Dr. Samuel Rawlins, was one of a group of renowned scientists who has been working towards a consensus understanding of the phenomenon of climate change. Dr. Rawlins and University of the West Indies (UWI) professor John Agard were co-opted by senior climate scientist Dr. Roger Pulwarty who with two other Caribbean scientists contributed to the 2007 report of the United Nations’ Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that helped the institution win a Nobel Peace Prize. That prize was shared in December with former United States Vice President Al Gore, one of the world’s leading advocates for environmental reforms to stem the tide of global warming.
“To me, the (Nobel) prize means that the issue of climate change has gotten more of the public focus and more people are aware that climate change is taking place and that all of us can do something to stop it,” Dr. Rawlins told the Express in a phone interview on Tuesday, October 16, 2007.
Dr. Rawlins, a Kittitian, who is recently retired as the Director of the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) in Trinidad after a 20-year career, is a specialist in the study of insect vectors of disease. Thus, his contribution to the UN report, which was two years in the making, focused on public health issues associated with climate change. “Climate change affects us all in a very real way. The Caribbean countries are more vulnerable than larger countries, and if we don’t move very quickly to undo the damage that is being done it will affect the coming generations of our people,” he said.
For those persons who doubt the effect of climate change on vector proliferation and disease transmission, Dr. Rawlins offers up a recent study on climate change in the Caribbean. That study demonstrated that even climate variations, that is less severe manifestations of a climate change, have increased the prevalence of not only Dengue Fever and Malaria, but probably other vector-borne diseases as well. “The UN has already recognised that 150,000 people die each year due to the effects of climate change,” Rawlins said.
If 2007 is anything to go by, things can only get worse. How can it not worsen when countries in the European Union and the United States would like developing and non-industrialised countries like ours to share the burden of reducing greenhouse gases? That is a bitter pill that regional governments are not prepared to swallow.
Sam Rawlins is an emeritus Scientist (entomologist/parasitologist). Dr. Rawlins recently retired from the CAREC. Prior to this he was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Microbiology at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus in Jamaica. His area of specialty has been the surveillance and control of vector-borne diseases – a subject on which he has published quite extensively. In the last few years, he has taken an interest in the area of climate change and variability impacting on arthropod vectors and on the diseases which they transmit. Dr Rawlins is a graduate of London University, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and of the University of the West Indies.