‘It was like an angry giant had stomped all over this beautiful island’
Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland has appealed to the international community for help for storm-ravaged countries in the Caribbean.
Following her recent visits to Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica to discuss Commonwealth support after hurricanes Irma and Maria caused widespread devastation, Scotland has also promised to ramp up her advocacy for the reform of development assistance rules, which member states say are restricting their access to aid.
“During my visit I met prime ministers Gaston Browne and Roosevelt Skerrit, opposition leaders Baldwin Spencer and Lennox Linton, as well as members of the diplomatic community and other international organizations who are still on the ground and have done so much to help Barbuda and Dominica.
“I promised to do everything in my power to challenge rules that say a high income but climate vulnerable country that has just lost all its economic sectors and its entire GDP to a hurricane, is ineligible for Official Development Assistance,” Scotland reported, adding that “we have already seen progress on this after the [United Kingdom] intervened, with donor countries now committing to review the rules”.
She added that the Commonwealth was also supporting Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica through initiatives such as the Climate Finance Access Hub.
“We already have an expert on the ground in Antigua and Barbuda and we are working with Dominica to get someone in as soon as possible to help create strong climate change projects which will attract funding,” the Secretary General said, adding that the organization was helping to strengthen legal frameworks to meet mitigation and adaption goals and ensure smooth relief efforts after hurricanes of this magnitude.
“I am urging the international community to keep Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica high on its agenda and continue to support their full recovery.”
Recalling her arrival in the hurricane-ravaged islands, Scotland said nothing could have prepared her for what she saw or the stories she heard during her visits.
“Flying in to Dominica, I hardly recognized the country of my birth. Maria has devoured almost all its vegetation. The signature green that used to define this fertile breadbasket of the Caribbean is gone, replaced by brown, bald patches of land and naked trees, stripped of their barks,” she recalled.
“When I landed I was heartbroken. It was like an angry giant had stomped all over this beautiful island. Recently, built roads were smashed and barely accessible – decades of infrastructure development gone. One of the most poignant moments for me was seeing a woman sitting in the middle of rubble that used to be her home. She just sat there, among the pieces where her house once stood. In 2015 Storm Erika had damaged her house, but Maria picked it up in her mighty hands and crushed it. She and her children, one of them just nine years old, are now homeless. Around the corner my guide, MP Denise Charles, pointed out a collection of storm debris. Another example of a badly damaged road, I thought, but she told me that three house used to stand in the spot.”
“This story of utter devastation, of screams in the dead of night, of burials and memorials, were repeated everywhere I went. No corner of the island is untouched by Maria,” Scotland added.
She said the story was similar in Barbuda.
“Travelling through the ghostly empty roads in the evacuated island, was akin to travelling through a bomb site. My guides were speaking about landmarks in the past tense. ‘This used to be a church, that was our police station’. Just two months ago this was a vibrant community.
“Walking into a primary school I gazed for a while at the textbooks, destroyed and scattered around the compound. The children who used to attend this school are now in shelters in Antigua, still coming to terms with the trauma they experienced on the night Irma demolished their island.”
Despite the tragedy and unimaginable devastation, the Commonwealth Secretary General said she saw in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica an unbreakable spirit of resilience and revival.
“These countries declared loudly ‘we are still standing and we will continue to rise up from this disaster’. But they need help,” she said.