Climate Change Epicenter: Dominican Republic

When I worked for Al Jazeera America in New York City (2013-2016) I read that Santo Domingo – the capital of the Dominican Republic – will be among the worst-hit cities in the world because of sea level rise.

I traveled there in 2015 to investigate and wrote an article about it.

In February of this year, NPR journalist Mariana Dale – who had seen my piece – got in touch asking about tips for stories to cover related to climate. I recommended she go to a Santo Domingo neighborhood I had covered in my 2015 article that was at risk from rising seas.

And she did, but first, a little background:

Sea level rise is caused by climate change in that the ice sheets in Greenland, the Arctic, Antarctica and elsewhere, are melting – adding volume to the oceans. Another way climate change causes sea level rise is by warming the overall temperature of the oceans – which causes thermal expansion (the water to expand).

Conservative estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency project up to 4 feet of sea level rise by the end of this century. Recent research by climate scientist James Hansen, at Columbia University, however, says there could be up to 16 feet of rise by 2100.

The World Bank said that Santo Domingo (along with four other cities: Alexandria, Egypt; Barranquilla, Colombia; Naples, Italy; and Sapporo, Japan) would be among the worst hit by sea level rise in 2050.

That means it’s sandy beaches, coral and low-lying cities would all be affected. Al Jazeera America sent me to Dominican Republic to report on sea level rise – and this is what I found.

la barquita (2)
La Barquita neighborhood

One of the biggest problems for DR was a Santo Domingo neighborhood called La Barquita that was built along the Ozama River. The impoverished neighborhood was being flooded and the streets were filled with evacuation route signs.

The people who lived there lived in a maze of shacks, and would not be able to afford a move to higher ground.

That’s where the Dominican government stepped in – they built an entirely new city for La Barquita residents, and paid for them to be relocated to the new neighborhood in Santo Domingo.

When I was there covering the story, construction on the new Barquita had just recently started. When NPR journalist Mariana Dale went back this year, she got to see residents moved into the new city. This is what she had to say:

“I was able to visit the old neighborhood while people were moving out as well as talk to people who had been in the new apartments for a few months,” Dale told me in an email after she returned from the trip.

Dale reported in her story:

“The multistory apartments of La Nueva Barquita look like pastel legos. On the first floor there are a handful of businesses selling snacks, clothing and groceries.

The streets are clean and kids flew kites, or as they call them, chichiguas, overhead.

Reyes’s new home is on the second floor of a purple building.

“Everything is beautiful, thank God,” Reyes said in Spanish.”

To learn more about this, check out her story on NPR!


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