Do­minica: A Caribbean is­land re­builds from zero

African Independent - - OUTLOOK -

al­though it’s “re­ally sad and painful”. In her pro­fes­sional view, the wa­ter safety is­sue is al­ready be­com­ing crit­i­cal. “The wa­ter started smelling,” she says, adding that dead an­i­mals could con­tam­i­nate the sup­ply.

Sketchy in­for­ma­tion With in­for­ma­tion gath­ered largely from over­flights and am­a­teur ra­dio op­er­a­tors, a pic­ture is emerg­ing of se­vere im­pact – es­ti­mates of miss­ing or dam­aged roofs go as high as 90%. Ac­cord­ing to a satel­lite anal­y­sis, even one of the less-af­fected ar­eas, the north­west­ern town of Portsmouth, ap­pears to have had 55% of its build­ings dam­aged.

Maria cut power, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, and drink­ing wa­ter sup­plies, al­though one mo­bile phone net­work has restarted in the cap­i­tal and an FM ra­dio sta­tion is also on air. Some peo­ple’s in­ter­net con­nec­tions still work if bat­tery or gen­er­a­tor power is avail­able..

Ham ra­dio op­er­a­tors have come into their own in the Do­minica cri­sis, pro­vid­ing a stream of up­dates from their own homes to a global di­as­pora and across the is­land. A re­lay of a group of ra­dio en­thu­si­asts to Face­book brought hun­dreds to a nightly call-in by the ra­dio hams across the is­land.

Be­ing the only voices com­ing out im­me­di­ately after the hur­ri­cane was “a plea­sure”, says ra­dio op­er­a­tor Gor­don Roy. “It’s a hobby for us, but when­ever the time comes for us to pro­vide a ser­vice, we are al­ways will­ing and able to do that.”

On the roof of the gov­ern­ment build­ing in cen­tral Roseau, Roy is set­ting up a new HF ra­dio an­tenna – the long-dis­tance type used by am­a­teurs and pro­fes­sion­als alike. Roy is the vice-pres­i­dent of the over 50-strong Do­minica Am­a­teur Ra­dio Club which has been pro­vid­ing a lot of the emer­gency com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

The task ahead Aid plan­ners say res­cue, re­lief, and clear­ance op­er­a­tions will be par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult as the pop­u­la­tion lives along a nar­row and of­ten steep coastal strip, with a sin­gle road ring­ing the edge of the is­land.

That road is cut off by de­bris in many places and may only be reach­able by boat. Mud­slides can be seen from the air in the steep val­leys ris­ing from the coast to­wards the in­te­rior. There are no roads across the pris­tine moun­tain­ous in­te­rior, des­ig­nated a Unesco world her­itage site.

Do­minica has a small and vul­ner­a­ble agri­cul­tural and eco­tourism econ­omy, whose key source of growth in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to one ex­pert, has been to of­fer dual cit­i­zen­ship in re­turn for fees and in­vest­ments from wealthy in­di­vid­u­als.

Aid and mil­i­tary teams from the Caribbean and Amer­i­cas, Europe and the UN are con­verg­ing to of­fer sup­port. Re­gional states have loos­ened im­mi­gra­tion rules to ac­com­mo­date the needs of Do­mini­cans and its vis­i­tors.

Joanne Per­sad, of the Caribbean Dis­as­ter Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (Cdema), is on the move in and out of an op­er­a­tions cen­tre set up in the buzzing cen­tral gov­ern­ment of­fices in Roseau.

Her teams, flown in by heavy Bri­tish mil­i­tary he­li­copters, are pro­vid­ing a first wave of sup­port. She says the pri­or­ity has to be clear­ing the roads and en­hanc­ing se­cu­rity as there have been “a few is­sues”. Re­lief and ad­di­tional forces from Trinidad and Tobago and Bar­ba­dos will quickly quell any in­se­cu­rity, she adds.

Man­ag­ing the as­sort­ment of in­bound help has be­come a pri­or­ity: milling in the cor­ri­dor are of­fi­cials from re­gional bloc Cari­com, an air­line, a UN-backed tele­coms team from Lux­em­bourg and Nor­way, French civil de­fence, Bri­tish army, UN agency rep­re­sen­ta­tives, an of­fi­cial from Bri­tish aid min­istry DFID, and a fam­ily of tourists try­ing to find “a Bri­tish diplo­mat” to let them on the Chi­nook he­li­copter idling at the sta­dium.

There are co-or­di­na­tion chal­lenges, sim­ply be­cause “na­tional au­thor­i­ties are not yet up and about to lead cer­tain pro­cesses”, Per­sad ex­plains. She ac­knowl­edges that na­tional co-or­di­na­tion, only a cou­ple of days after the hur­ri­cane, is tak­ing time to or­gan­ise.

Cdema is op­er­at­ing close to full ca­pac­ity and Per­sad does not deny it is stretched. The UN’s co-or­di­na­tion mech­a­nisms, in­clud­ing the UN Dis­as­ter As­sess­ment and Co-or­di­na­tion teams, are tak­ing a back seat to Cdema and of­fer­ing sup­port as needed.

The World Food Pro­gramme (WFP) will aid Do­minica and the re­gion through Cdema with lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port, in­clud­ing pas­sen­ger and cargo ser­vices. WFP’s lo­gis­tics team can also pro­vide track­ing and co-or­di­na­tion for mil­i­tary con­tri­bu­tions.

Do­minica’s hand­ful of ports are not set up for heavy cargo op­er­a­tions and both there and at the air­ports, more stor­age and han­dling ca­pac­ity will be needed, says WFP’s re­gional sup­ply chain of­fi­cer Belka­chem Machane.

“Dis­tri­bu­tion is the is­sue,” ex­plains an­other aid plan­ner, say­ing that along the coast, smaller boats pro­vide the best op­tion for town-by-town ac­cess. Given the rugged ter­rain, there will be few easy land­ing zones for he­li­copters, he points out.

At the air­port, en route to the UN in New York to drum up sup­port, Sk­er­rit says the coun­try will need “wide-rang­ing” sup­port, in­clud­ing for food, wa­ter, med­i­cal, clear­ance op­er­a­tions, and re­build­ing.

“We have to con­tinue hav­ing hope,” he says. “And we have to do what we have to do.” – Irin News

PIC­TURE: BEN PARKER

DIS­AS­TER AREA: Many houses and much of the is­land’s in­fra­struc­ture were de­stroyed by Hur­ri­cane Maria.

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