The volcanic island of Saint Lucia is more mountainous than most Caribbean islands. Tourism is vital to its economy and attractions include a "drive-in" volcano where one can drive within a few hundred feet of the gurgling, steaming mass; the Sulphur Springs, in Soufrière; the majestic twin peaks, "The Pitons" and its rain forests. Like many Caribbean countries, these low-lying, small-island developing states are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“This project expands on the coverage of previous initiatives in Saint Lucia to improve understanding of the link between climate change events and health and adaptation measures.” Dr. Newton-James explained. The initiative also supports recommendations from Saint Lucia’s National Adaptation Plan Stocktaking, Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Report (2018), to increase investment in climate change communication and awareness. “There is a need for Saint Lucian youth to be more active at the community level and to be able to recognize the impacts of climate change on health,” she asserted.
The Saint Lucia Health & Climate Change Profile (2020) highlighted the highest priorities of climate change risks in Saint Lucia, as the direct health effects of extreme weather events and indirect health effects – water security/safety and water-borne diseases, food security/safety, malnutrition, food-borne diseases, vector-borne diseases, and air pollution.
Dr Newton-James explained that the participatory, community approach focused on youth-based education, awareness, and action was not only timely but also important in building resilience to climate change at the community level. The project commenced with a multistakeholder buy-in workshop where the youth and other stakeholders were introduced to the project and invited to contribute. This was followed by a youth knowledge-sharing session and an activity that involved taking photos in the community. These photos were uploaded to a registry and were used as the basis for informed discussion about possible solutions and avenues for action.
After participating in the workshop, Dr. Newton-James sent out the young participants, from various communities – from Gros Islet in the North to Vieux to the South - of this Eastern Caribbean Island nation. Dr Newton-James was very impressed with what they found.
“I keep saying this. We underestimate our youth. We don’t give them enough credit. If we give them the tools that they need to be the sort of change agents, especially in a crisis like what we have right now, climate change, they will come up with the most innovative solutions,” Dr Newton-James remarked.
The photos captured by the youth highlighted the challenges related to climate change and health and opportunities for building resilience to climate change at the community level. According to Dr Newton-James, the photos highlighted that the impact of climate change was evident and varied among Saint Lucian communities. They identified bushfires, an influx of Sargassum seaweed, soil erosion, land slippage/landslides, the destruction of the shoreline, increased vector breeding grounds and the evaporation and siltation of rivers.