Caribbean remembers storm-hit 2017

The start of the 2018 hurricane season is a mere six months away, but Caribbean leaders are hoping that the region would win a respite in the new year from the power and ravages of nature after living through the horrors and devastation of 2017.

Keith Mitchell, prime minister of Grenada and outgoing chairman of the 15-nation Caribbean Community suggested that the natural disasters the region faced in 2017 were unprecedented in nature, and the year is one that its citizens would prefer to forget.

“There is no doubt that 2017 has been a most eventful year for the community,” he said in a year-end departure statement as bloc chairman. “We experienced a scale of multicountry devastation never before seen in the region as two Category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, raged through the Caribbean within two weeks. The governments and people of our community immediately responded to assist their brothers and sisters with the generosity and spirit of togetherness which is our trademark. I therefore must pay tribute to those who so willingly extended a helping hand in the hour of need of our brothers and sisters in the stricken countries.”

Preparing to hand over the reins to President Jovenel Moise of Haiti for the next six months, Mitchell praised governments in the Caribbean, the hemisphere and other parts of the globe for helping the region to recover from two of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record. Haiti is slated to host the midyear summit of leaders sometime in February.

As expected, Mitchell pointed to the late November international conference, which was held to raise funds to rebuild battered Caribbean islands. The conference was held at United Nations headquarters in New York. Mitchell called it a success.

He said the nearly 400 high-level representatives who attended, among them several heads of governments in the Caribbean, had helped to raise more than $1.3 billion in pledges for the storm-hit countries and approximately $1 billion in loans and debt relief.

He also touched on the plan developed by governments and experts to vastly reduce the level of devastation from storms by rebuilding with climate resilience in mind. Officials have said that unless the region changes the way its infrastructure is designed and built, the task of reconstruction each year will be more expensive and stressful.

Therefore, for example, consideration is being given to placing power plants and lines underground or in secured areas to allow them to survive storms. The same is true for mobile telephone towers, which are toppled when storms come ashore.

As Mitchell takes his leave from the chairmanship of the bloc, President Moise, in his own new year statement emphasized that the Caribbean has no choice but to become “the first climate resilient region in the world.”

“The absolute necessity to create a climate smart region is clear, given the effects of climate change which have brought us droughts, mega hurricanes, heavy floods and unusual weather patterns, all of which adversely affect our development,” he said. “The social and economic gains that we have made individually and collectively must be protected against the onslaught of nature. The member states’, as well as the region’s nonmember states’ production of greenhouse gases, is practically nil, even though they bear a disproportionate share of the consequences.”