Political Scientist Peter Wickham has given Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit “full marks” for his handling of the recovery efforts following the passage of Tropical Storm Erika last month.
Skerrit was not on the island when the storm hit on August 27, but flew home via helicopter almost immediately afterwards.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY Wickham said the Prime Minister showed leadership in a crisis situation and was also able to attract the necessary help from regional neighbours and the international community.
“He was seen on the ground in the places where help was needed most; he marshalled the assistance of his associates in Venezuela and also in Trinidad and Tobago and ensured that airlift was available to take people from the areas that were in the greatest of need.
“And then in terms of the response on the ground, the parliamentary committee, which included members of government and opposition sitting together for the first time, it was historic and I think it was what was needed under the circumstances. So I think he hit a home run in terms of his response,” Wickham said.
In the four weeks since the storm hit, Skerrit has been active on social media, updating Dominicans and the diaspora on his activities in the hardest-hit areas, meetings with regional and international officials, and recovery efforts across the island.
However not everyone has welcomed his approach, with some of his critics accusing him of politicizing the disaster to his benefit.
But Wickham said it was necessary to engage the public at such a critical time.
“I got the impression that a lot of the challenges on social media had to do with people who had a political axe to grind that one would wish at times like this would be set aside.
“I think on social media people would be taking political pot shots but I like the fact that he used social media to get the message out there to people like us for example, within CARICOM and again almost immediately we were able to get information updates from the Prime Minister’s Facebook page which was accessible to all. That helped us understand where the areas of greatest need were, so I’m not sure the basis of the criticism that he was receiving via that medium.”
With the storm having left behind over EC$600 million in damage, Wickham said the reconstruction efforts must now focus heavily on additional investment into the island.
“I don’t think that the normal budgetary allocations for Dominica can do what has to be done in terms of the reconstruction, He really needs to look outside. He needs to look to his friends in the international community who can invest in Dominica and ensure whatever investment now is built in a way that can ensure that if this happens again that there will not be similar devastation,” Wickham advised.
He also hailed the formation of a reconstruction committee led by the former Attorney General of the United Kingdom Dominican-born Baroness Patricia Scotland.
“It’s the kind of engineering and construction work that seems to be expensive, it’s not a cheap exercise and I think that he clearly needs to look to his partners internationally to raise the necessary funding.
“And this is the reason why Baroness Scotland is so important to this process. She being the former Attorney General of the United Kingdom will have the type of influence regionally and internationally that can bring Dominica the help it needs to move forward,” he stated.
Wickham noted that Dominica suffered a level of devastation akin to the destruction caused by Hurricane Ivan in Grenada 11 years ago, as well as the Christmas Eve trough in St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2013.
But he pointed out that this was the second major storm the island experienced in recent history, after Hurricane David in 1979, which destroyed close to 80 percent of the housing stock. It is for this reason, he said, that the rest of the region could learn lessons from Dominica on how to respond to a natural disaster of this magnitude. (MCW)