Guyana President David Granger’s offer of a gift of land for Caribbean people whose island homes have been devastated by an onslaught of monster hurricanes is an act of compassion that must be commended.
It also reflects the scale of the recovery and reconstruction the region faces, which may lead to resettlement from islands that may be now uninhabitable, as in Barbuda. This is the case Granger made, joining regional leaders seeking to place the issue of storm relief on the agenda at the United Nations.
“We have to sit down and speak to other Caricom states to see how this gift could be utilised to give the Caribbean people a better life in the wake of these disasters,” Granger told Guyanese media at the UN headquarters in New York yesterday. “In my lifetime, I have never seen such a catastrophic series of hurricanes.”
The region faces considerable challenges ahead when it comes to the reconstruction efforts. Antigua and Barbuda will need an estimated US$300 million to rebuild, which represents more than 20 per cent of the country’s GDP. Where will these funds come from? And that’s just one country alone. And one storm.
Fast on the heels of Harvey, Irma, Jose is Maria and a heart-wrenching plea from Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit who said everything that money could buy has been destroyed by that storm. Even the roof of the Prime Minister’s residence is gone.
How can the region rebuild in the face of such onslaughts? The economies of the islands most affected by hurricanes earn revenue from tourism and agriculture, two sectors which are crippled most in the wake of a storm.
One suggestion has been made for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to place a moratorium on loans. In response to pleas for help, the IMF’s special representative to the UN, Christopher Lane, reportedly suggested last week that the Fund could lend more money to the islands. The IMF might be able to do more, but only if lending countries can be persuaded to place a stop on repayments.
It is becoming increasingly clear that international bodies potentially have a vital role to play in helping reconstruction efforts. The imperative for them to do so is heightened by the fact that climate change has been linked to the actions of larger countries, like the United States, that are in a better position to weather storms, as the recent experiences in Houston and Florida demonstrate. Though there were deaths, agencies there were reported to have become better at dealing with the aftermath of a storm. Even two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro made an impassioned plea to the UN earlier this week for an international role in the reconstruction efforts for Barbuda.
“We must act together to help the most vulnerable,” De Niro said. “The recovery process will be a long, hard road. Barbudans must be a part of it, their homes repaired stronger, rebuilt stronger, new homes stronger.”
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne also attended the Assembly where UN Secretary General António Guterres said cutting carbon emissions “must clearly be part of our response” to the recent disasters. But cutting emissions is one thing, immediate relief is another. Especially given the revenue challenges being faced by leading economies such as Trinidad and Tobago’s. With local economies in recession, it is not clear that regional bodies such as the Caribbean Development Fund will be able to keep pace in these changed times.
Which is why Granger’s offer is instructive. It suggests that this region will have to find creative ways to rebuild. With uncertainty at the UN and IMF, we must be prepared to weather this storm on our own.