In the wake of the devastating passage of Hurricane Irma and with at least three more powerful systems currently threatening the region, a leading Caribbean economist today warned that natural disasters are costing the region dearly.
Addressing the opening of a Caribbean Leadership and Transformation Forum at the Barbados Hilton Resort, Director of Economics at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Dr Justin Ram reported that on average hurricanes and other environmental hazards were costing the region about two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) annually.
“We here in the region we don’t have the luxury to say that climate change isn’t happening. I think that we see the evidence around us all the time,” Ram said, adding that, “there is very little that we can do with respect to mitigating climate change”.
However, in the face of such threats, he suggested that “as small island developing states we need to be able to adapt to [natural disasters] and adapt our infrastructure as well as our livelihoods to what is happening around us”.
While highlighting the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Irma on the island of Barbuda, Ram further suggested that the region needed to address frontally the whole question of “how do we build resilience to our societies and to our economies?
“And that question is not only about the additional infrastructure that is required, but how do we ensure that our countries are actually viable economically as well,” he said.
Earlier today Barbados seemingly dodged another powerful bullet as the island was spared the wrath of Hurricane Maria, which passed just north of the island on a trek towards the already hurricane battered Leeward Islands. Many of them are already reeling from the crippling blow dealt by Hurricane Irma just under two weeks ago when it bypassed Barbados before bearing down on Anguilla, Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British Virgin Islands, which were hardest hit.
In all, Irma was responsible for an estimated 30 deaths, with hundreds of millions of dollars in damage reported during its onslaught, which was immediately followed up by Jose. Presently, forecasters are also closely monitoring the development of Tropical Depression Lee, which is currently lurking in the Atlantic.
Today, Ram also recalled the economic impact of Hurricane Ivan back in 2004 saying it was nothing short of “Armageddon” with an estimated 200 per cent of Grenada’s GDP wiped out by the storm, which served to highlight the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters.
With this in mind, Ram said it was critical for there to be robust adherence to building codes and climate change adaptation in order “to ensure that our infrastructure can
withstand the threats posed by our natural disasters”.
“If we do not ensure that that happens then we are implying
subsidies into the future, and who will subsidize that? So it is a very important question for us to ask at this point,” he stressed.
He acknowledged that CCRIF, previously referred to as the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility, remained critical and relevant to the region in terms of it being able to access
useful relief in the immediate aftermath of disasters.
However, he warned that this facility was now in need of recapitalization and expansion, as he called on regional countries to continue to support it.
“CCRIF has really been a stellar institution of our region and one that we need to support urgently,” Ram said.