As we write this blog, it is clear that Hurricane Dorian has created havoc in The Bahamas with consequences for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as a whole. Preliminary reports indicate that five people are confirmed to have died in the storm; storm surges of 12 to 18 feet (4-5 meters) above normal hit Grand Bahama Island and up to 13,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged. Prime Minister, Hubert Minnis, described the impact of the hurricane as a “historic tragedy in parts of our northern Bahamas’. For this, we at GOFAD join others in the CARICOM Region and around the world in expressions of sympathy and solidarity to the Prime Minister and the people of the Bahamas.
WATCH: Dorian batters the Bahamas, killing five
The frequency and severity of these catastrophic events are illustrations of the vulnerability of the Caribbean. Since 1950 approximately 300 natural disasters have hit the region, killed some 250,000 people and affected more than 24 million through injury, death, or loss of homes and livelihoods. According the World Development Report (2014), the Caribbean islands are among the 25 most-vulnerable nations in terms of disasters per-capita or land area, with their frequency and damages exceeding those for other small and larger states. An IMF study (2016) found seven Caribbean islands are at extreme or high risk of natural disasters, with vulnerability gauged by disaster frequency and impact. It shows that in many cases disaster damages exceed the size of the economy. This is borne out by more recent events. For Dominica, after the category 5 Hurricane Maria hit the region in September 2017, damages were estimated to be more than 200 percent of its GDP.
Consequences such as those resulting from natural disasters in The Bahamas and Dominica are part of a wider problem identified in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #13, which focuses on climate action that rolls out several targets. Greenhouse gas emissions are more than 50 percent higher than in 1990. As a result, global warming is contributing to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones. These in turn aggravate water management problems, reduce agricultural production and food security, increase health risks, damage critical infrastructure and interrupt the provision of basic services such as water, sanitation, education, energy and transport.
Managing Risks and Increasing Resilience
The two interrelated pillars for dealing with these challenges are managing risks and increasing resilience to adverse shocks. They combine to prepare for risk with the ability to cope afterward. They forestall climate-related disaster migration, which is a serious impediment to growth. They facilitate macroeconomic and development goals which allow countries to break-free from the vicious cycle of high debt and low growth prevalence. They reduce the massive reconstruction costs that take away scarce resources from social spending. Analysis shows that Dominica may have lost more than a decade of development, as measured by real GDP per capita, following Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Striving for Resilience
The aspirational goal enunciated by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit to make Dominica the first climate resilient country in the World is a laudable one. It requires three complementary building blocks of effective risk management. These are:
These building blocks for sustainable resilience require international investments such as the Marshal Plan for the Caribbean proposed after Hurricane Maria, but which has not come to fruition. Upfront costs of resilient infrastructure are high. They are estimated to be around 25 percent higher than regular infrastructure. Resilient structures mitigate destruction and losses from natural disasters, but do not eliminate them. As a result, limited national fiscal buffers are major barriers. When compounded by limited flows of global funds for adaptation (UNEP 2016) and limited capacity constraints to meet complex access requirements for climate funds, they contribute setbacks to resilience, which is the Caribbean reality. But this need not be the case. Exploring innovative strategies will be the focus of our next blog.