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One Caribbean? An oxymoron

One Caribbean? An oxymoron

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The Caribbean region has been at the top of the news cycle ever since a series of hurricanes poured tons of rain and directed hurricane strength winds against a region previously recognized for its white sandy beaches, blue green water and palm trees. These natural disasters destroyed up to 50 percent of the Caribbean islands infrastructure.

Fiscal/Physical Disaster

In less than a month some of the countries in the Caribbean region were devastated by three hurricanes, making global headlines because of weather related destruction of unbelievable proportions. The loss of life, power, water, and a compromised infrastructure have had a negative impact on the economics of the region and have raised serious questions as to the ability of current political leadership and local governance to address the existing challenges while speaking to the need to prevent future catastrophes from destroying the country’s physical foundation and fiscal profile.

One Caribbean?

In an attempt to bring attention to the region, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) recently held an international conference in Grenada. The State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC) attended by hundreds of public and private sector c-suite executives, entrepreneurs and journalists who offered their knowledge, insight, and expertise in the spirit of embracing the concept of “One Caribbean.”

Although the conference was initially intended to highlight new marketing opportunities (Super – charging the Caribbean Brand: Meeting the Needs of the New Explorers), the recent change in weather patterns, the subsequent travel disruptions and burgeoning economic hardships required speakers and participants to include a review of the crises and comments on the current situation with predictions for the future – from their vantage point.

While some industry presenters were reluctant to candidly detail the extent of the devastation and quantify the cost of rebuilding their infrastructure and superstructure (attempting to paint a smiley face on the disaster), other destination executives and hoteliers (i.e., Sint Maarten, Saint Martin, British Virgin Islands) vividly shared information on the crises in their countries and the challenges they face.

Some news outlets suggest that France and the Netherlands deployed a rapid and coordinated effort to assist the people in Guadeloupe (France) and Sint Maarten (Netherlands); however, the UK government has been cited for being too slow to act in the British Overseas Territories of the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla and the USA had to be publicly shamed by mass and social media into addressing the catastrophes in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. American assistance continues to be inadequate and the channels of distribution are inefficient and ineffective.

Past as Prologue

According to the World Bank, “Since 1980, eight countries in the Caribbean experienced a disaster event with an economic impact of over 50 percent of their annual GDP: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis.” The World Bank currently supports Caribbean countries on disaster risk management and climate change adaption with an active investment portfolio of US$383 million.

It’s About Me

The countries that were spared from weather related damage (this time) were eager to describe their Caribbean products at the CTO/SOTIC conference, detailing new opportunities for a sunny holiday. What was missing from the “good news” presentations were empathy and specific documentation as to the past, present and future support available to their Caribbean neighbors.

While some countries have made financial contributions and provided technical support to their beleaguered neighbors from existing financial reserves, others have used their Citizenship by Investment portal to source monetary contributions. For example, the Antigua and Barbuda citizenship program under the National Development Fund (NDF) was reduced to US$100,000 (from $US 200,000.00) and St. Kitts and Nevis reduced the required contribution to its newly created Hurricane Relief Fund to US$150,000.

One Caribbean

Denzil Douglas, the Leader of the Opposition party in St. Kitts and Nevis, questioned the legitimacy of the program, suggesting that it is a smokescreen to raise money for the prime minister’s re-election campaign. Furthermore, it has not been made clear how much of the contribution is designated for the Hurricane Relief Fund (Joyce Loan,, September 26, 2017).

Grenada is making an initial contribution of EC$1 million to the islands affected by Hurricane Irma. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) is providing Emergency Relief Grants to Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos. The grants, totaling US$200,000 each, will assist with costs associated with damage assessments and the provision and transportation of emergency shelters and community buildings and temporary shelter for displaced person.

The CDB Immediate Response Loans of up to US$750,000 are available on highly concessionary terms and designed to support the clearing and cleaning of areas damaged and emergency restoration of services. The National Disaster Management Agency (NaDMA) and private citizens have started campaigns aimed at gathering nonperishable food, clothes and other supplies for affected countries.

The United Arab Emirates, UAE, provided emergency assistance worth AED36.7 million (US$10 million) to aid those affected by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean states. President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, claimed that the humanitarian gesture aims to assist and enable international relief efforts to mitigate the suffering of the people on the Caribbean islands. The UAE affirmed that the delivery of this assistance was part of its humanitarian role towards the people affected by natural disasters worldwide. The UAE has become an active contributor among international responders to humanitarian challenges and has made its presence felt strongly in areas of international long-term emergency humanitarian assistance and relief.

King Mohammed VI sent aid from Morocco as a show of solidarity. The contribution includes supplies and materials for reconstruction efforts.

Some cruise lines have been responsive to the cry for assistance: The Adventure of the Seas made a humanitarian stop in St. Maarten and Norwegian Cruise Line mobilized its Norwegian Sky ship to St. Thomas to deliver supplies and assist with humanitarian efforts organized by the government. The Majesty of the Seas made a humanitarian call to St. Thomas and St. Maarten to assist in transporting evacuees to safety.

As of August 30, 2017, US corporate relief totaled $65 million (from US Chamber of Commerce data). It is interesting to note of the 30 companies listed, the only industry specific corporate contributor was United Airlines.


What is missing from all these pledges, loans, grants and gifts – is accountability. There does not appear to be any governing organization, association or private enterprise that is monitoring the source and uses of the funds and there are no requests (from the public or private sectors) for an audit of these new assets.

Rebuild? Replace?

The region has to accept the reality of climate change and just rebuilding is an inadequate response. There is a rush to reopen hotels, bars, restaurants, restock shelves in markets, and get the children back to school. In Puerto Rico, press releases announce hotels welcoming guests and a major industry trade show has not been cancelled; however, a large part of the island is not receiving power and people are dying from drinking polluted water.

It is likely that “business as usual” will take time. When Hurricane Ivan (2004) struck Grenada, tourism fell to 10 percent of the pre-storm level in the island’s first high season and GDP dropped by 24 percent. Rebuilding will be costly and the public insurance agency for France estimates that it will cost 1.2 billion Euros to repair the infrastructure of St. Barthelemy and the French half of St. Martin, an island of 75,000 people that France shares with the Netherlands. More than two-thirds of St. Martin structures were damaged or destroyed.

On Barbuda, most of the island structures have disappeared. The Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology (Germany) has estimated the cost to rebuild the region will cost nearly $13bn.

Reality Testing

Weather – related disasters are likely to continue, and may get worse. With the region dependent on tourism (providing at least 2 million jobs), governments can no longer accept a same-same approach to their infrastructure. With eroding coastlines, devastating winds and torrential rains, the entire infrastructure and superstructure of the region requires new ideas, new thoughts and a new way of doing business.

Ottis JoslynOttis Joslyn

Ottis Joslyn of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), found three obstacles to an insightful and meaningful future for the region:

1. The weather is changing faster than expected. Current governance is slow to accept the reality of the “new normal” and sluggish in developing strategic plans to immediately address their new reality.

2. Short-term thinking. The emphasis continues to be on quick growth without urban planning or enforced building codes.

3. Lack of capital for investment. With many governments crippled by long-term public debt and short-term private financial support available for crises but not for long-term development, there is a need for creative and innovative methods for addressing weather-related disasters.

Joslyn has found that, “Caribbean governments speak a lot about climate change but their actions leave a lot to be desired.”

Caribbean presentation

Steven Mouzon of the New Urban Guild (Miami, Florida) is dedicated to the study and design of true traditional buildings and places that are native to and inspired by the regions in which they are built. He addresses some of the considerations from the public and private sectors as the countries re-establish their communities and think about rebuilding, redesigning and reinforcing the buildings and towns recently destroyed.


1. Mouzon suggests that governments look first at the towns and then the buildings.

Design and build compact towns. From power access to services, keeping buildings and people centralized will enable a quicker recovery when emergency workers can reach residents and structures rapidly.

2. He questions whether or not towns should be built (or rebuilt) in their current locations. Storm surge can be very destructive, and buildings are almost powerless to deal with the power generated – frequently killing more people than a hurricane.

3. Sustainability. Permit buildings that reflect the culture and customs of the community. People identify with their structures and are likely to recover emotionally from their losses when the built-environment reflects themselves and their cultural identity.

4. Look at the dunes. Communities that developed behind the dunes have been able to withstand storms; however, the dunes have to be sustained with diverse species from grasses and ground cover to palm trees.

5. Encourage local farming. Hurricanes can damage the crops – but at least food is available, and it is more effective and efficient to pick fruits and vegetables from a local source than wait for a ship to enter a port and get offloaded.

6. Encourage small and local businesses as they are likely to be more resilient than national chains and the entrepreneur is motivated to quickly reopen.

Cdr. Bud SlabbaertCdr. Bud Slabbaert

Build for Hurricanes

In the October 6, 2017 issue of the Nassau Guardian, Cdr. Bud Slabbaert, a specialist in strategic communication in business aviation stated, “…various individuals’ in Caribbean governments are incompetent in establishing an appropriate code that focuses on building hurricane-resistant structures.” He suggests the development of “…an independent Caribbean research and development institute for architecture and construction. The institute should be supported by the insurance and the building industries. The activities of the institute should be carried out in cooperation with reputable international universities, such as, for instance, the Technical University Delft-Netherlands, Technical University Zurich – Switzerland. There should be no political involvement; it should be an absolutely independent and impartial organization.”

Jorge FamiliarJorge Familiar

According to Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice President for Latin American and the Caribbean, “It is clear that Latin America and the Caribbean does not have the infrastructure it needs or deserves, and the accomplishments of the past decade make this contrast even starker. Low-quality roads keep people from jobs and public services and increase the costs of small farms and exporters alike, making them less able to compete. Over 100 million people, almost a fifth of the population, do not have access to improved sanitation, and two-thirds of sewage goes untreated, spreading disease and degrading our rivers.”.

Time is Now

Perhaps the words of former President Barack Obama (Speech in Glenside, PA, March 8, 2010) summarize the critical situation currently facing the Caribbean region:

“Now, since we took this issue on a year ago, there have been plenty of folks [in Washington] who’ve said that the politics is just too hard…Don’t do it now. My question to them is: When is the right time? If not now, when? If not us, who?”

© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

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