by Arley Gill
Grenadians, as survivors of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, fully appreciate what the people of Saint Martin, Anguilla, Cuba, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands and certain parts of the United States of America are presently going through.
The scenes of destruction — caused by the combined assaults of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose — bring back painful memories of destruction we suffered 13 years ago this month.
For example, on Barbuda, nearly every building was damaged, leaving an estimated 60% of its roughly 1,400 residents homeless. “It is just really a horrendous situation,” said Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda.
Cubans, too, have been counting their losses, including the death of 10 nationals. Havana and other cities have been flooded, power has been out and roads blocked by fallen trees and other debris. “The whole northern hotel belt has been devastated,” said Claris Charles, Grenada’s ambassador in Cuba. “It is a horrible, horrible situation.”
In St Martin, there has been major damage to the airport and heavy flooding in the coastal village of Marigot.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the storm ‘caused wide-scale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses.’ He added, “There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark — in ruined houses — and are cut off from the outside world.”
The housing stock of small islands being completely devastated, businesses vanishing, personal possessions that persons would have taken years — if not generations to accumulate — being wiped out in a few minutes, and lives lost due to natural disasters, bring the reality of life and living into sharp focus.
We may not be wealthy ourselves as Grenadians; but, I know our experience and our generous spirit will once again inspire us to give what little we have, to those in need.
There are Grenadians living in St Martin, some of whom I met this year when I visited for carnival. In addition, there are Grenadians living and working in Anguilla, BVI and USVI, as well thousands in Florida which took a beating from Hurricane Irma and in Texas, which is still trying to recover from Hurricane Harvey. Thus, we are directly affected in one way or the other.
Look, there is nothing we can do to prevent hurricanes, around even before the discussion of climate change started. Climate change would have made it worse and more frequent. However, the reality is that every year we are faced with this hurricane threat.
It impacts our economy negatively as we have to replace things we already had, and with the tourism and agricultural sectors practically grounding to a halt. With every passing hurricane, we are confronted with the aftermath of rising home insurance costs, among other issues that the economists will be best able to detail for us. The truth is, it is a constant struggle to deal with the effects of these devastating hurricanes.
But, we have to prepare better; we have to implement and enforce better building codes and physical planning schemes. As I mentioned to a few friends, we cannot move our islands when a hurricane is coming; we simply have to lock down and wait.
It seems to me that governments in the region need to invest heavily in emergency relief; from every island establishing an emergency relief fund, to having large storage of water and dry goods, and in acquiring transportation like vessels and helicopters. We cannot wait for the USA to send a relief helicopter every time we are faced with a crisis. The point is, we have to become better first-time responders to ourselves and our neighbours.
I hope this will be the worst patch of an already active and aggressive hurricane season. We must not forget the lessons we have learnt, and the unfortunate reminders we’ve just received from these series of hurricanes.
My heart goes out to all the people affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose. May you find the strength to rebuild bigger and better.