By Carlvon Ramsingh
Much has been said and written in terms of the cost of Hurricane Irma on the Caribbean islands, especially in Antigua & Barbuda, St. Maarten, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, and the US Virgin Islands. Many officials from Britain and France have visited along with their military, and some leaders in the Caribbean. All have reported seeing massive destruction and devastation the likes they have not seen, and indeed Caribbean diplomat Ronald Saunders pointed out the fact that for the first time in 300 years, the island of Barbuda has been totally abandoned, without a soul on land.
The cost of restoration has been projected to be billions of dollars, and whilst this might be true, the narrative of cost and restoration versus sustainability is a pertinent and urgent one which must be addressed. Rebuilding, restoring and sustaining the islands must be a priority.
In this context then, the following must be considered:
1. The islands have not been destroyed. It’s the vegetation and houses and infrastructure that has been destroyed, not the island.
2. Having said that, what is being proposed is to rebuild those physical structures. Mind you, the trees will regenerate, the beaches will regenerate, and the waters will be calmed again.
3. I therefore submit that it is the people, and the island, its vegetation, its beaches, it’s seas, bays and reefs, will remain, and therefore the sustainability, both economic and social is what is more important.
4. Rebuilding must therefore take place in that context, I.e. Creating a better life for the people socio-economically, socio-culturally, socio-technically and socio-politically.
4. Through current, emerging and future technology in this the Digital Age, these islands can leapfrog into the 21st Century, and therefore “rebuilding” must take place in this context, I wish to strongly suggest.
Buildings built to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, will sustain economic activity in Tourism, as it will provide the confidence and trust for tourist to visit, comfortable in the fact that they can more than survive in the event of an emergency. Building can be made self-sustaining as emergency solar and wind energy generation provide water and air-conditioning, heat for cooking and power for realtime communications. Less damage will result in the event of a storm or hurricane as islands become more resilient to an environment of increasing storm activity due to the increasing temperature of ocean surfaces in the hurricane belt.
Whether, these islands belong to the US, Britain, France or the Netherlands, they belong first and foremost to the Caribbean and the people of the Caribbean. The foreign powers, whilst I acknowledge their contributions should not assume a neo-colonialist stance, but treat with the human capital of these islands as a resource that can be nurtured, developed and actualized as wealth creating for all, including themselves.
The islands have long been exploited as assets, not resources, under the guise of being tourists destinations, dependent on tourist spending, grants and loans which have kept these places as play grounds for the rich and famous.
It is a chance for a new beginning. I submit in 2017, that must no longer be the case.