In light of Hurricane Irma, the head of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Ronald Jackson, is suggesting that greater attention needs to be paid to this region’s coastal assets, especially those related to the vital tourism sector.
Just back from visiting storm-ravaged Anguilla, Barbuda and the British Virgin Islands, Jackson said this was one of the main lessons for the region arising out of the impact of the category five storm, which was packing maximum sustained winds in excess of 185 miles per hour when it bore down on the Leeward Islands last week.
“In the case of Barbuda, [where 99 per cent of the island was decimated] . . . . there will have to be changes in how Barbuda is reconstructed,” Jackson told reporters at a news conference here this afternoon, while stressing that “there are coastal issues facing that country”.
“We saw where there were tourism facilities that were built on sand, so the issue of carrying capacity is one that we have to look at.
“The roofs stayed on many of those facilities, but the building broke or toppled in many instances which meant that the weight of the infrastructure itself, could not be borne by the depth of the substrata in that country,” he explained.
“We are going to have to look at how we are going to be rebuilding tourism in Barbuda to look more at potentially lighter infrastructure that may cost less for us to replace or which may survive the impact of these events in the future,” he suggested, adding that the rebuilding process would take some time.
Looking at the wider regional picture, the CDEMA boss warned that coastal communities were losing their shorelines, and that hotels and other built-up structures were currently exposed.
“There is no morass, there is no beach . . . what that means is that your wave is going to go much farther inland than before and the question of whether or not you have the sound infrastructure and an anchored foundation is going to determine how those building stand up . . . but more importantly, as you lose shoreline, the issue of how you are going to have to redefine your setback requirements for new investment,” he said.
The CDEMA boss also called for attention to be paid to preserving coastal assets, such as coral reefs, “bearing in mind that you may experience erosion over time, so you need to plan for that [over] 50, 60 years if you want truly sustainable investments” .
Meantime, a desk is being established in Antigua to assist with evacuation and processing of regional storm victims. The government of Suriname through the National Disaster Management Office is also sending four officers to St Maarten to assist in identifying Caribbean nationals who are now said to be stranded in the Dutch-speaking territory.