Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 21st 2017 Contents commentary BG13
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Since September 6 when Hurri-
cane Irma, the most monstrous
storm that the Atlantic has en-
dured in history, thundered-up
to the tiny island of Barbuda
and devastated it, I have been
telling audiences in Washington DC, and,
through the media, to the wider world that
Climate Change and global warming are a
reality and here to stay.
The 1,700 people who inhabited Barbuda
until September 9, including 500 children
of school-age, would need no convincing
that the weather is far from normal, and
that, increasingly over the last 25 years,
hurricanes have become larger, stronger
and more brutal in the damage that they
inflict. The Barbudans have been amongst
Hurricane Irma's most affected victims.
On September 12, in a formal statement
to representatives of the member-nations of
the Organisation of American States (OAS),
I said on behalf of Antigua and Barbuda:
"These storms know no borders. They
cross them at will and with no fear of being
turned away by any immigration of icer.
They know no ideolo y or embargoes. So,
Irma stalked through parts of Cuba before it
went on to parts of the United States. They
make no discrimination between small or
large, or poor or rich. They see no white
people, or black people or any shade of col-
our in between. Their destruction is ruth-
less, heartless and pitiless".
"That is why", I said, "no nation can
stand apart from the reality of climate
change or the effects of global warming".
I repeated that statement to emergency
aid agencies, representatives of developed
countries, a public forum organised by the
Centre for Strategic and International Stud-
ies, and in many media interviews.
With regard to Barbuda, its land mass is
62 square miles. Hurricane Irma was 364
miles wide when it spread itself across the
Island, overwhelming it in size, strength
Irma's force was category 5 plus, with
winds gusting up to 220 miles per hour;
much stronger than the force with which it
tossed property aside when it stormed into
Florida as category 4, waning to category 2.
Neither Barbuda nor its inhabitants stood a
ghost of a chance against so formidable and
all-encompassing a monstrous power.
When Hurricane Irma departed, Barbuda
was reduced to what Prime Minister Gaston
Browne called "a mangled wreck." It was
uninhabitable, having no electricity, no po-
table water, and buildings that were struc-
turally weakened and dangerous to enter.
In those circumstances, it would have been
irresponsible for any government to leave
anyone on Barbuda.
Thus, the government took the decision
to evacuate everyone to Antigua. The deci-
sion was made more urgent because on the
very day of the exodus, Hurricane Jose was
forecast to set upon Antigua, following in
Irma's destructive path.
On Monday, September 11, even as Hur-
ricane Irma was performing its dance
macabre over the other countries in the
Caribbean, having delivered cruel blows
to the US and British Virgin Islands, and
all of the French/Dutch Island, St Martin/
St Maarten, Pope Francis restated his con-
viction that climate change is real and per-
ilous. He rightfully expressed the view that
the impact of climate change will be hardest
on the world's poorest, and he was openly
critical of those who do not play their part
in reducing its effects. "If we don't go back
we will go down," he warned.
Three things contributed to the fact that
Antigua was scarcely damaged while Bar-
buda was decimated.
1. Antigua and Barbuda are separated by
30 miles. Thus, only Irma's outer bands hit
2. Antigua is a hilly island; Barbuda is
flat. Antigua has some natural resilience;
Barbuda has none.
3. Antigua has experienced many hur-
ricanes since the early 1990's, the conse-
quence has been higher codes for buildings
and more awareness among the population
of the need to take precautions.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda's ambassador
to the United States and the OAS and High
Commissioner to Canada. He is also a senior fellow
at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University
of London and Massey College in the University of
The views expressed are his own)
Lessons from the Antigua
and Barbuda experience
1.The importance of preparation
2.The incalculable bene it of strong
and visionary leadership.
The people of Antigua and Barbuda
have been high in their praise of Gaston
Browne who took command of prepa-
ration for the impending storm and for
managing the situation of Barbuda and
its inhabitants. His leadership, they say,
One of the things he did was to stock
a warehouse in Miami with material that
was flown in immediately for emergency
relief in the wake of the storm.
Unlike the British, US and French Is-
lands, Antigua was prepared to deal
with the evacuees from Barbuda who
increased Antigua's population by three
per cent overnight with all the demand
for government services that such an in-
Despite the treacherous conditions
which lingered over Barbuda on the
afternoon of the Hurricane's passage,
Browne was the irst person to arrive
on the island via a dangerous helicopter
ride. His presence on Barbuda and the
fact that he could personally give com-
fort and hope to the traumatised, bewil-
dered and desperate people was decisive
3.Readiness for dealing with a
post-hurricane humanitarian cri-
sis. While Antigua could not have ex-
pected an overnight influx of the entire
Barbuda population, in less than two
days the government mobilised every
resource to accommodate and care for
them. Shelters were organised, Antigu-
ans were asked to volunteer accepting
children and elderly people into their
homes, and essential material: food,
water and basics for living were provided
by the government.
The Antiguans were remarkably open-
hearted and welcoming. Of course, oth-
ers helped. Initially the Red Cross and
then the emergency services of a few
countries and hemispheric agencies.
But, the initial costs were borne by the
So, while the people of other islands,
mostly colonies and outposts of powerful
nations, were left in dire conditions for
days, some are still waiting for help, this
did not occur in Antigua and Barbuda.
In future, all Caribbean countries have
to cater for a humanitarian crisis. Not
many can decant from one part of their
state to the other. Preparations will have
to include stockpiling food, water, med-
icines and other essentials long before
storms arrive on their shores.
4.Building codes and standards
have to be dramatically im-
proved. Storms in the future will be cat-
egory 5s and more. Buildings have to be
constructed to stand-up to them, or year
after year the countries of the Caribbean
and the United States will face huge costs
to rebuild after disasters and to cope
with humanitarian crises.
The government of Antigua and Bar-
buda is facing a bill upwards of US$250
million to rebuild Barbuda, but it is a
US$1 billion economy. The government
cannot do it alone. Barbuda is both a nat-
ural disaster and a humanitarian crisis
that cries out for a global humanitarian
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