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The 2017 hurricane season, our vulnerability and Christmas

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A huge sigh of relief would have collectively been let out throughout the Caribbean as the official deadline for the end of the dreaded hurricane season, November 30, passed this year. This, of course, would have been tempered by the Vincentian experience in 2010 of a virtual “Christmas storm”. It was a chilling reminder that we have reached a new stage in the global environment, bringing unforeseen challenges.

This year has been another very challenging one for the Caribbean where hurricane damage is concerned. 2017 gave us a brutal reminder of our vulnerability in the region to destruction by storms and hurricanes. We in SVG might have been spared this year, but what of next year and the ones following? We are all fated to suffer in this way and the rate of environmental deterioration, leading to rapid climate change, increases the odds in this direction.

As we approach the Christmas season, just spare some thoughts for the people of Dominica, Barbuda, the Virgin Islands, St Martin and Puerto Rico. What kind of Christmas will they be spending? It will certainly not be a “merry” one, definitely not a “white” one, and with the hurricanes having literally stripped those islands of their lush vegetation, not even a “green” one.

The scale of devastation in those islands to the north of us has hammered home to us all how vulnerable this region is to such occurrences and the long-term damage they can inflict on our survival and quality of life. Two of the region’s Prime Ministers, Dominica’s Roosevelt Skerrit and St Lucia’s Alan Chastanet, addressed this matter recently at two separate forums, to international donors at the World Bank in the case of PM Skerrit, and the Caribbean Tourism Organization, in Chastanet’s case.

Both pointed out that such storms do not only wreak horrific human and physical damage, they also severely restrict our options for recovery. The very nature of the small size of our countries and their economies mean that, as in the case of Dominica, all that we took years to build can be wiped out in just eight hours. Many larger countries have suffered damage from natural disasters which quantitatively surpass anything we suffer in the Caribbean, but on their scale it is still only partial. For small islands, the destruction is total and complete – no agriculture, no food, no schools, no health services, no tourism, no work, no economy.

Some of us in the region do not quite understand how natural disasters affect us all. I have heard people talk about the wiping out of Dominica’s banana trade with the northern islands being an opportunity for our own farmers, but this must never be seen as a replacement opportunity, but a temporary one brought about by adversity. Similarly, the talk of “more tourist ships” must be tempered by the realization as well that Puerto Rico was a hub for the Eastern Caribbean and damage there has affected the overall business for our region.

These are the issues that we must collectively face as a people. Some of the Affected islands are part and parcel of our own Eastern Caribbean Currency Authority and the OECS market. Economic setbacks on the scale suffered there must have a negative impact on the OECS as a whole. It dramatically brings into focus the urgency of our responses to climate change and of making this phenomenon a major priority.

The St Lucian Prime Minister illustrated that at least he acknowledges this fact, when he told the recent tourism conference that, “The Caribbean can be completely destroyed if we don’t react to climate change”, deeming it as “the single most important issue” that we face as a region.

These must not be recorded as mere emotional speeches; they must have reflection in how we in the region plan our forward progress, how we view integration of our economies and people, how we collectively approach the major issues of the day and work together to solve them. Even our Christmases cannot be “Christmas as usual”, and wishing that “All our Christmases be green” must take on new meaning.

We will continue in this vein in the following column.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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