Dominica: A Caribbean island rebuilds from zero
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
DISASTER AREA: Many houses and much of the island’s infrastructure were destroyed by Hurricane Maria.