Were there any legitimate arguments against the contention that the Caribbean has one of the highest levels of vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters, it has been greatly diminished by the events of late.
Some people still hold the view that climate change and adverse weather and climate events, are simply acts of God. That floods, destructive hurricanes, sea level rise, excessively hot days, fires in the Amazon Forest and even the miles of excessive sargassum seaweed, are just acts of nature; the way life is expected to evolve.
We know from all the evidence and research, that nature will produce events that are perilous to mankind. However, few can dispute that many of the traumatic events have been worsened by man’s actions and interventions over several years.
Often, scientific and industrial developments that ostensibly make life easier for us, invariably produce impacts that undermine our very existence.
The region’s susceptibility to the effects of rising sea levels, and warming temperatures of the oceans represent existential threats to our tourism industry, agriculture, and water supplies.
It was not long ago that Grenadians were trying to put their lives back together after the deadly and destructive effects of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Or Dominica, where the infrastructure was flattened by Hurricane Maria in 2017. In the northern Caribbean, Bahamians will want to forget how Hurricane Maria hovered over the archipelago for days, only to have Hurricane Dorian follow just weeks later before they completed the clean-up from Maria.
It has been established that even a one degree increase in the world’s temperature can result in increased rainfall that leads to more flooding and destruction of food crops.
Moreover, if temperatures continue to rise there are implications for stronger hurricanes, larger storms, a longer hurricane season and increased destruction to infrastructure and lives.
At a high level, these may seem like esoteric subjects, with little meaning to the average man. But as the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to the livelihoods of thousands of workers in various sectors, so too are the dangers posed by natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.
As we begin the back-breaking task of cleaning up what could be tons of volcanic ash deposited on us from the La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent and the Grenadines, we are left to ponder just how much more can we bear.
The region is known for its resilience, overcoming disaster after disaster. However, our region’s collective fortitude is being tested at every turn.
Our economies are still reeling from more than a year of stagnant economic activity caused by the pandemic. Deficits and debt are rising at alarming rates as Governments seek to respond to the still unfolding crisis.
It is clear that while regional countries are not the architects of many of the industrial developments that put us at risk, it is incumbent that we speak out as one on the issue.
We must demand that industrialised nations put financial support behind efforts to make the region more resilient and better positioned to respond to disasters.
In May 2019, more than 500 delegates from 20 Caribbean countries gathered in Barbados to discuss priorities and solutions to tackle climate and disaster risks at the Understanding Risk (UR) Caribbean conference.
Tahseen Sayed, the World Bank Director for the Caribbean, remarked that investing in better preparedness, stronger infrastructure, more fiscal buffers for difficult times, strengthened social safety nets, and opportunities to better manage the Caribbean region’s natural resources were necessary action items for regional heads.
Another high-ranking World Bank official Anna Wellenstein spoke to the commitment that was necessary from global leaders, admitting that the region was not in a position to address the issues using their own resources.
“Natural disasters in the Caribbean region have become increasingly intense in the face of climate change. Now more than ever, there is an urgency to support island nation states in their effort to build a more resilient future. The World Bank is committed to this long-term partnership of bringing the best global know how to the region,” Wellenstein said.
We are pleased to learn that the World Bank is pledging US$20 million to St Vincent and the Grenadines in response to the La Soufriere Volcano eruption.
While we applaud the swift response of the multilateral financial institution, US$20 million is but a fraction of what will be needed to help the Eastern Caribbean state.
The Ralph Gonsalves government will require much more to respond to the human and economic tragedy that is unfolding.
All this comes just days after the Dr Gonsalves warned public officers that his government was facing a financial crisis, and it may not be in a position to pay civil servants their salaries and wages.
“I say this with all honesty, the way things are going . . . in one or two months. . . the government may not have the $30 million every month to pay civil servants and to pay the National Insurance Services contributions . . . and to pay salaries and wages,” Gonsalves said on radio.
He lamented that while his government has held things together economically “through all kinds of difficulties”, there was now “real pressure on”.
Comrade Ralph is putting up a brave face for his countrymen, but we know it has been a difficult time for the administration and that much help is required.