Caribbean representatives attending the 50th Annual Conference of the Association of Caribbean Historians (ACH) have been ensuring that the vulnerability of education institutions and heritage sites is not overlooked.
Yesterday, a panel of historians discussed the topic ‘Hurricane Impacts on Caribbean Educational and Heritage Sites: Urgent Needs and Long-Term Challenges’ at the conference held at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
Caribbean academics on the panel included Molly Perry from the University of the Virgin Islands, Raymond Laureano Ortiz from Centro Estudios Advandzados in Puerto Rico, Natasha Lightfoot from Columbia University and Rita Tien Fooh, President of the Caribbean Branch of the International Council on Archives (CARIBCA) and Director of National Archives in Suriname. They explained what their respective countries faced and what was needed to return to state of normalcy.
Natasha Lightfoot of Columbia University in the United States discussed the unique challenges faced by Barbuda as well as the socio-economic difficulties that continue to affect the island still recovering from the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Irma in September 2017.
“Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne estimated that rebuilding will cost anywhere from $250-300 million USD,” she said, adding that three weeks after the hurricane, the Prime Minister, at a town hall meeting with persons who resided in Antigua and Barbuda who now live in the New York City, described the country as a ‘welfare island.’
“He discussed Barbuda as a welfare island rather than a proportionate contributor to GDP,” she said, noting that Prime Minister Browne stated that the belief that Barbudians can legally claim the communal land is only a myth.
“[This] is a dismissal at once of the pressing question of who is going to control rebuilding and relief and the centuries of history [on which] this so-called myth rests,” Lightfoot said.
She further raised objections about the international media’s description of Barbuda as “empty.”
“International media consistently reported that half of Barbuda was now “empty” for the first time in centuries, which was untrue. The island was never fully evacuated. Some people never left [and] some of them [returned] to rebuild their homes and their lives. As of now, 400 out of 1,800 persons that live in Barbuda have returned and are sleeping in tents outside of what remains of their property and trying to salvage what they can from the debris as they try to build back anew,” she said.
Lightfoot noted that Barbuda is an underdeveloped nation and suffered a devastating blow by the Category 5 hurricane that pummelled the island leaving the lone educational facilities decimated.
“There are no heritage sites; the budget for preservation is non-existent. The island has two main educational institutions – the Holy Trinity Primary School and Sir McChesney George Secondary School. Both [were] destroyed and currently, the school for younger children is being held in a church. There are no national archives. They are in Antigua and are under disrepair due to Government neglect and that is over the longer term because of climate change, natural disasters and just lack of budget and lack of attention. So people who work in the archives are desperately appealing for an angel,” she said.
President of the Caribbean Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (CARBICA) and Director of the National Archives in Suriname, Rita Tien Fooh presented on the rescue conservation effort, which is needed to preserve the documentary heritage of territories, like St Maarten, the British Virgin Islands, and Dominica
She noted that CARIBCA had provided damage assessment in Dominica and the British Virgin Islands as they sought to mitigate future catastrophes by developing a network of trained professionals as well as strengthen ongoing response on the islands.
Fooh also noted that in 2016, CARBICA submitted a proposal to the International Council on Archives under the name ‘Archives at risk: Advocacy and Capacity Building in the Caribbean.’ The project is a multi-year regional strategy in support of archives at risk from suffering a lack of investment in infrastructure and risks related to physical challenges presented by tropical climates and a lack of trained archival professionals. (LG)