By: Patrick Martin
Tears of a prime minister just about sum up the recurring reality in the region. Lives lost and livelihoods shattered by the interminable winds of Category 5+ terror, buckets of rain and waves crashing two storeys high.
Climate Change scientists foretold an era of more frequent and intense hurricanes because of global warming. The unfairness is that Caribbean island states and territories contribute negligibly to greenhouse gas emissions but are among its earliest victims.
The Irma-Maria double team is stark evidence of a changed ball game. As fate would have it, the Federation, spared twice by a mere 60 miles on either side, has become both a refuge for evacuees and a staging point for relief.
A few hundreds may be added to our 54,000 residents (World Bank estimate). “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). Our generosity is a matter of life and death especially in Dominica.
How can small island states and territories cope with the new weather normal? Evacuate inland?
How about prayer to avert storms and hurricanes? Indeed, but “Faith Without Works Is Dead” (James 2:26). According to the wise ancestors “A bad wind never blow”. Ruins and near misses spell opportunity to rebuild, redevelop and lead smarter.
The people who lived here before Columbus, knew Caribbean islands are interdependent elements of a pristine yet fragile ecosystem. They did not pollute the air and waters. They did not destroy rain forests and drain swamps. They, who Europeans dissed as “primitive”, live in accord with nature and were self-sufficient in food and energy. They, the Kalinago, were among the first impacted when Maria tore through Dominica.
The original inhabitants also knew freedom of movement. Ability to move is a need because any island can be rendered uninhabitable by any force of nature. Seamless inter-island movement of people and goods is impaired by geopolitical walls erected in the service of colonial hegemony.
To add insult to injury, the inheritors of colonial largesse are somewhat blind and deaf to the climate and tectonic vulnerabilities of their overseas territories and the independent island states. They persist in defining island states using the flawed per capita GDP metric, insisting we borrow from them at commercial rates to rebuild after each storm. Our leaders are correct to attack this nonsense at every international pulpit.
On the home front, the most urgent leadership task is to mobilize residents to greater resilience, self-reliance and regional solidarity. It speaks to a new leadership culture and management journey based on evidence-informed planning and policy-making coupled with stringent performance expectations and accountability.
To my mind, foremost among the lines of action are: the protection, at all costs, of existing surface and underground potable water sources; water harvesting via geothermal-powered reverse osmosis; running utility lines underground; enacting tax incentives to stimulate greater acquisition of solar energy systems and appliances; safeguarding existing reefs against siltation, plastics and chemical run-offs; building artificial reefs to fortify or regenerate coastlines; continual clearing of storm drains and culverts, and pruning of branches; andresourcing of NEMA to optimally strengthen its supervision and coordination of emergency shelters, supplies logistics and public communication.
Irma and Maria have also refocused attention on the OECS building code. The fact that some buildings stood while others crumbled is testimony to the code’s adequacy and sound workmanship. Water catchment and a survival bunker should now be compulsory.
A major hurricane will likely hamper port operations – not a good thing for a country overly reliant on food imports from the USA. Consumption of highly processed foods and beverages is a major determinant of the Federation’s high levels of obesity- and NCD-associated illnesses and disabilities. This burden of disease is unsustainable and screams for policies to boost indigenous food production and preservation, and inter-island trade.
Hard decisions have to be taken now to mitigate the impacts of inevitable disaster. Government must lead the way.
It will be unpopular to eradicate derelict property,
and to ban roof shingles, galvanize fences and mega-billboards. However, they are our immediate missile threats, not North Korea and Iran. And, the government that uses force of arms to stem dumping in water courses and protected areas may be called draconian. So what? Paralysis by timidity is not an option.
We are blessed but there is a probability of a future direct hit by a category “anything” hurricane. St. Kitts and Nevis’ sustainable development future must be firmly rooted in optimal resilience, self-reliance and regional solidarity. Leadership regarding a “Caribbean First” agenda will redound to the restoration of the ecological balance jeopardized by rapacious “developers”.
The Federation will endure “With God in all our struggles”.