As Hurricane Matthew continues its path across Florida, it leaves in its wake a tragic toll for AOSIS members in the Caribbean killing as many as 327 in Haiti, 27 in the Bahamas, four in the Dominican Republic, and one in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Sadly, the death toll may rise as aid workers reach affected areas and the extensive damage to Haiti has raised fears of another cholera outbreak, which earlier killed 10,000 people after a 2010 earthquake there.
Reports from all affected areas suggest severe if not near total devastation and rebuilding could take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Humanitarian relief agencies are assessing damage and needs and the US military has already mobilized aid teams, food, water and medical on the ground in Haiti.
Even as the full extent of the storm is being assessed, a debate over the role climate change plays in generating deadly tropical storms has resurfaced.
Scientists are careful to attribute any single weather event to the warming climate and point out the nonlinear complexity involved in making such links, but there is wide agreement that warmer oceans on average will make hurricanes more intense. There as yet does not seem to be a link to the frequency of storms and climate change, but there is also wide agreement that they will dump more rain because the warmer the atmosphere is the more moisture it holds.
The Washington Post’s science reporter, Chris Mooney, linked to a recent scientific overview of what is known about the hurricane-climate connection:
While no significant trends have been identified in the Atlantic since the late 19th century, significant observed trends in [tropical cyclone] numbers and intensities have occurred in this basin over the past few decades, and trends in other basins are increasingly being identified. However, understanding of the causes of these trends is incomplete, and confidence in these trends continues to be hampered by a lack of consistent observations in some basins.
But for people living in tropical storm-prone regions, like Fiji, which experienced one of the strongest cyclones ever to make landfall earlier this year, have all the evidence they need in the form of more powerful storms, more deaths, more damage, and more setbacks to their sustainable development goals.