By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas’ growth and economic diversification “depend” on fortifying its coast against natural threats, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) noting that 60 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) is generated by these areas.
Unveiling plans to establish a “climate-risk resilient” Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) programme in the Bahamas, the IDB said this would “optimise the contribution of the coastal zone to national sustainable economic development”.
The Bank, in papers released yesterday, said latest estimates showed the Bahamas’ coastal areas generated 60 per cent of GDP and 50 per cent of employment, with 80 per cent of the country’s hotel plant located here.
“The coastal zone is a critical asset for the national economy,” the IDB reiterated. “It harbours much of the islands’ critical infrastructure in the tourism and fisheries sectors, including industrial complexes, ports, fish processing plants and tourism resorts and associated services,as well as 80 per cent of the island’s residential population.
“Coastal ecosystems themselves provide goods and services that are also vital to these sectors, including, for example, the provision of nursery habitat for fish stocks, buffering public infrastructure and coastal populations from coastal erosion and flooding, and supporting tourism and recreation.”
And the Bank added: “The Government of the Bahamas has recognised that future growth and diversification of its tourism-dependent economy depend on the health and prosperity of the coastal environment, and on enhancing the resilience of economic activities to coastal risks associated with natural and anthropogenic hazards, such as erosion, flooding and climate change, as well as threats to biodiversity such as habitat degradation and land-based sources of pollution.
“Given the strategic importance of the country’s coastal zone to economic development, the Government has made several advances towards climate risk-resilient ICZM.”
The IDB said the importance of this initiative was underlined by the Bahamas’ low-lying terrain, which made it vulnerable to natural disasters such as hurricanes - a major storm striking this nation once every three years.
Coastal erosion and shoreline stability were cited as other threats, while climate change and sea level rise were impacting “the health” of the Bahamas’ marine life, leading to reef degradation and coral bleaching.
“As most coastal development, tourism, industry, and residential sites occur at elevations of one to four metres above sea level, and more than 90 per cent of all fresh water resources lie within 1.5 metres of the surface, significant property damage, potential loss of life, and long-term damage to coastal biodiversity is predicted,” the IDB report warned.
“Other impacts include greater inundation of low-lying coastal lands, loss of beaches, inland migration of coastal wetlands (notably mangroves) and increased groundwater contamination due to saltwater intrusion.”
Taking the September 2004 examples of Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne, the IDB said the Bahamas suffered loss and damages equivalent to 10 per cent of GDP.
The Bank added: “The productive sector (tourism and agriculture) suffered 41 per cent of the economic damage, while losses to the infrastructure and social sectors amounted to 27 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.”
And, further illustrating the Bahamas’ vulnerability, the IDB added: “It is estimated that a one-metre rise in sea level will place 36 per cent of the major tourism properties in the Bahamas at risk, as well as 38 per cent of airports, 14 per cent of the road network and 90 per cent of sea ports.
“A two-metre rise in sea level is estimated to impact 50 per cent of the country’s major tourism resorts. The Bahamas tourism sector can expect annual losses of between $869 million and $946 million as a result of sea level rise alone [by 2050].”
The IDB project is aiming to build upon the improvements contained in the 2010 Planning and Subdivisions Act, with the risk-based ICZM also set to help the Bahamas meet the target of 20 per cent conservation of the nearshore environment by 2020.