Down in the dol­drums

Stabroek News - - EDITORIAL -

As the faint rem­nants of long lived Irma fi­nally weak­ened into light scat­tered show­ers across the dis­tant Amer­i­can val­leys of Mis­sis­sippi, Ohio and Ten­nessee, shell-shocked sur­vivors slowly started to take stock fol­low­ing the lat­est deadly hur­ri­cane. The da­m­age and de­struc­tion left be­hind in an un­for­get­table week of wide­spread dev­as­ta­tion across the north-eastern Caribbean will take many months, if not years for bat­tered coun­tries to re­cover from, ex­perts say, as the life­line tourism in­dus­try lies ru­ined by wild winds and walls of wa­ter.

The in­cred­i­ble im­ages of stunned is­lan­ders in brown waste­lands sud­denly stripped of all green­ery and look­ing like Mid­dle East war zones with miles of lev­elled homes and bro­ken busi­nesses, as beau­ti­ful beaches dis­ap­peared and pop­u­lar city streets churned into rag­ing rivers will stay with us, as too, the dis­turb­ing so­cial me­dia scenes of dystopian desperation, scav­eng­ing and loot­ing, and the har­row­ing ac­counts of ab­so­lute an­ar­chy.

Tourists fled in droves as soon they could from this alien, hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment, while oth­ers with the means scat­tered to the near­est in­tact is­land seek­ing the ba­sics. Those left be­hind, home­less, hun­gry and hol­low-eyed wan­dered as con­demned souls across a strange wilder­ness, which seems a ter­ri­fy­ing tes­ta­ment to a fore­see­able fu­ture wrought with the wrath of wicked weather and cer­tain cat­a­strophic cli­mate change.

Lis­ten­ing to the omi­nous rum­blings of thun­der and watch­ing the big bolts of light­ning split the sky, I solemnly stud­ied the sheets of white mist that shroud the lush north­ern Trinidad moun­tains, sur­round­ing the crowded, flood prone val­ley where we live. As we waited for the lat­est thun­der­storms from the In­ter Trop­i­cal Con­ver­gence Zone (ITCZ), a belt of low pres­sure and con­vec­tive ac­tiv­ity en­cir­cling Earth near the Equa­tor, known by sailors as the dol­drums for the in­ter­sect­ing trade winds, I silently saluted the luck of Guyana and the twin is­lands to be so far south.

But I also cel­e­brated that An­tiguans, mirac­u­lously spared the mer­ci­less power of 155 miles per hour winds of the sprawl­ing cat­e­gory five cy­clone mere miles away, opened up their homes and hearts to ac­com­mo­date the 1800 dis­placed res­i­dents evac­u­ated from neigh­bour­ing “barely hab­it­able” Bar­buda where 95 per cent of the struc­tures were trashed by Irma. Puerto Ri­cans rushed to the aid of their coun­ter­parts in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, and lit­tle Do­minica quickly promised US$250 000 even with its “limited re­sources” as the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) quickly banded to­gether in a com­mend­able show of sol­i­dar­ity putting the big­ger, more de­vel­oped states to shame.

Do­minica’s Prime Min­is­ter, Roo­sevelt Sk­er­rit gen­er­ously pledged an equal amount for hard-hit Cuba, and sim­i­lar sums for St. Kitts and Ne­vis, and St. Thomas. Re­lief sup­plies were also be­ing mo­bilised for St Maarten/St Martin, the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands (BVI) and An­guilla.

It was Sk­er­rit as Chair­man of the Mon­e­tary Coun­cil of the Eastern Caribbean Cen­tral Bank (ECCB), who rec­om­mended that the body ap­prove fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions of EC$1M each to mem­ber ter­ri­to­ries An­tigua and Bar­buda, and An­guilla, plus EC$250,000 to St Kitts and Ne­vis.

When the Bank’s Board of Di­rec­tors sug­gested that Do­minica should re­ceive a con­tri­bu­tion for the da­m­age at the Dou­glas-Charles Air­port, Sk­er­rit ex­plained that he “re­spect­fully de­clined the of­fer of as­sis­tance…be­cause what has hap­pened in the other ter­ri­to­ries is ex­tremely pale (com­pared to) the dev­as­ta­tion in our mem­ber ter­ri­to­ries,” Do­minica News On­line (DNO) re­ported.

Squab­bling over this Govern­ment’s prom­ise of an ini­tial US$50,000 ($10.4m) in re­lief ef­forts through the Caribbean Com­mu­nity (CARICOM), sev­eral Guyanese blog­gers hotly ar­gued that more should be done call­ing for key es­sen­tial sup­plies, and squads of sol­diers to be sent to help in re­build­ing as in prior dis­as­ters. As a “needs as­sess­ment” is de­ter­mined, Guyana will try to ad­dress the needs of its cit­i­zens re­sid­ing over­seas rang­ing pre­sum­ably from those af­fected among the 15 000 or so in An­tigua and Bar­buda, to the lesser num­bers liv­ing and work­ing in St Maarten, the United States/Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, Turks and Caicos, An­guilla and The Ba­hamas.

As un­pre­pared Gov­ern­ments strug­gled to cope and crit­i­cisms quickly mounted es­pe­cially about the snail­slow re­sponse of the de­vel­oped world to the catas­tro­phe, we have to ac­knowl­edge that the hur­ri­cane sea­son is only just past the half­way mark, and 2017 could well be­come among the re­gion’s most ex­pen­sive years for nat­u­ral dis­as­ters fol­low­ing two ma­jor storms in as many weeks.

In an in­ter­view with TIME, Prime Min­is­ter Gas­ton Browne put the cost of re­build­ing Bar­buda at around US$300M, urg­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to come to the aid of is­lands se­verely hit by the storm. Terming global hu­man co­op­er­a­tion “an ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity” he bluntly blamed Hur­ri­canes Irma and Har­vey on “global warm­ing, sea level rise and cli­mate change.”

Browne said restor­ing just the neigh­bour­ing is­land of St Martin could top at the low end, US$1B. “This is not a sit­u­a­tion in which Caribbean is­lands are go­ing cap in

hand or with a beg­ging bowl to wealthy coun­tries. They have an obli­ga­tion to as­sist [small de­vel­op­ing is­lands] es­pe­cially as heavy pol­luters. They have to help us be­cause they are con­tribut­ing to the is­sue as heavy pol­luters.”

He called on the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to re­mem­ber the Caribbean as Trump asks Congress for funds for hur­ri­cane re­cov­ery. “My mes­sage is: just as Trump is help­ing other U.S. states, like Florida and Texas, just re­mem­ber that there are some coun­tries in the Caribbean that got dam­aged and the U.S. can do more,” he says. “They ought to do more. You can­not be the biggest and most pow­er­ful coun­try in the world and have small is­lands right on your doorstep on the so­called third bor­der.”

The Ger­many-based Cen­tre for Disas­ter Man­age­ment and Risk Re­duc­tion Tech­nol­ogy (CEDIM) ini­tially es­ti­mated in its foren­sic anal­y­sis up to Septem­ber 8 last that Irma will put the Caribbean back US$10B plus, while pre­lim­i­nary data from Moody An­a­lyt­ics said Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma caused be­tween US$150B-US$200B in da­m­age to Texas and Florida alone, ABC News dis­closed.

Losses are up­wards of 100% of Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct (GDP) in Sint-Maarten and Saint Martin, St. Barts and the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, since tourism is the key in­dus­try in many of th­ese locations, CEDIM cal­cu­lated. Air­ports are closed or in­op­er­a­ble and cruise lines have can­celled voy­ages, the risk ex­perts noted.

At least 55 fa­tal­i­ties have been recorded, in­clud­ing at least 22 in the U.S with the num­bers likely to rise. The USA To­day editorial board recog­nised Mon­day that the process of re­build­ing and restor­ing liveli­hoods will take years in some places. With all the at­ten­tion paid to Florida from Irma and Texas from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, it’s im­por­tant not to lose sight of the cri­sis in the Caribbean, it cau­tioned.

“Many Amer­i­cans might not have fully ab­sorbed the scale of the dev­as­ta­tion. Ca­ble news chan­nels, which went pretty much 24/7 in the days lead­ing up to Irma’s ar­rival and then posted re­porters out in its wrath as it made land­fall, gave rel­a­tively lit­tle time to the dev­as­ta­tion in the Caribbean is­lands. This seems odd, be­cause the scenes of de­struc­tion in places like Bar­buda, more than the ad­mon­ish­ments of some re­porter, would have pro­vided mo­ti­va­tion for peo­ple in Amer­ica to take this storm se­ri­ously.”

The ar­ti­cle ar­gued: “More im­por­tant, the rel­a­tive lack of cov­er­age should not be a sig­nal for Amer­i­cans to ig­nore the de­struc­tion be­yond U.S. bor­ders. Th­ese is­lands are our neigh­bors.

For many Amer­i­cans, they are home to fam­ily. For oth­ers, they are beloved va­ca­tion spots. Some of the larger is­lands have sig­nif­i­cant poverty and can­not eas­ily re­bound. And the posh re­sorts are ma­jor em­ploy­ers for peo­ple of mod­est means.”

Even as money and re­sources go into re­build­ing Texas and Florida, the news­pa­per added, “Amer­i­cans can af­ford to do­nate to re­lief ef­forts in the Caribbean. Some of the smaller is­lands - ter­ri­to­ries of wealthy na­tions such as Bri­tain, France, the Nether­lands and the U.S.A - can ex­pect sig­nif­i­cant gov­ern­men­tal help. But the sov­er­eign na­tions of Haiti, the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, and An­tigua and Bar­buda will need aid from friendly na­tions and pri­vate donors.”

But with a con­firmed cli­mate change skep­tic at the helm and the Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hard­ened re­sis­tance to ac­knowl­edge much less dis­cuss the is­sue amidst big bud­get cuts to key sci­ence and re­search pro­grammes, the United States is al­ready alarm­ingly be­hind a su­pe­rior Europe in its fore­cast ac­cu­racy and in­tel­li­gence. As the Caribbean is learn­ing, the fate of tiny is­lands and the words of their lead­ers hardly ap­pear to mat­ter, in the long, lonely and la­bo­ri­ous times ahead.

ID is happy that Irma will at least lead to Bar­bu­dans, at long last, se­cur­ing cov­eted land ti­tles on the 62-square mile is­land with a promised Crown grant of just one dol­lar each.

Some of the par­tic­i­pants and the fa­cil­i­ta­tors at the fo­rum (Min­istry of the Pres­i­dency photo)

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