SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - There is much discussion taking place this week up until November 17 in Bonn, Germany, where the United Nations (UN) Climate Conference is taking place. This week the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued a stark warning that 2017 is set to be among the three hottest years on record.
The impacts of a warming climate via extreme weather events such as destructive hurricanes, fires, floods, debilitating heatwaves, droughts, melting ice, changes to agriculture that threaten food security, are being felt on a global scale.
The WMO adds that the past three years is part of a long term warming trend of the earth’s climate pointing to recent ‘extraordinary weather,’ that includes temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean and Atlantic reaching as far as Ireland, and devastating monsoon flooding affecting many millions of people and a relentless drought in East Africa.
Our country Sint Maarten, was at the receiving end of two record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession, namely Category 5 Irma and Maria, and we could also add Category 4 Jose which passed to the north of the country, considered a near miss.
Sint Maarten is confronted with a magnitude of challenges at this point in time in its national development. Jump starting the national economy is a key priority in order to maintain a flow of foreign currency; assistance to those in need, who have lost everything; and one can go on and on listing the ills that our country is now being confronted with.
A Workgroup was established to develop the ‘National Recovery Plan (NRP).’ An interim NRP, entitled, ‘Sint Maarten Build Back Better,’ provides an analysis of the economic impact expected due to the loss of the country’s main business activities and infrastructure. Based on consultations with stakeholders, it ensures a roadmap for the reconstruction and recovery of Sint Maarten, for the short, mid and long-term.
The authors of the NRP based on assessments, places material damage at around US$1.8 billion. Considerable strategic investments will have to be made between now and the start of the next hurricane season, which is eight months away. Reason being, our sister island of Dominica, went through two catastrophic weather systems within a two-year period, Hurricane Maria this year and Tropical Storm Erika in August 2015, which at that time was the deadliest natural disaster in Dominica since Hurricane David in 1979.
There is nothing to say that Sint Maarten won’t be hit by another Category 5+ hurricane come September 2018, therefore building back better must be done in a strategic manner within the next eight to 11-months before the peak of the 2018 hurricane season.
Of course, a totally rebuilt Sint Maarten cannot take place within the aforementioned timeframe, however, strategic prioritized choices can be made based on the lessons learnt post-Irma/Maria.
A disaster can strip people and businesses of their livelihoods as has been the case bringing deeply disruptive impacts that push people into poverty and also trap them into an intergenerational transmission of poverty. A clear example, in 1995, the so-called ‘shanty-towns’ existed, 22-years later, they still exists.
Our disaster risk reduction policies and entities today has to take into account the shifting risks associated with climate change.
The future of our island nation is bright: Insurance sector monies are already being re-invested and this should be stepped up in the coming months; SXM Airport is open for commercial air traffic; Cruise lines to return in December; Kingdom Government funding related to the reconstruction of public infrastructure should be in place in early 2018.
We need to embrace certain principles in order to become a climate-resilient nation. The UN Secretary General said recently during a visit to Dominica, that natural disasters had tripled, while the economic damage caused by them has increased five-fold; that there is scientific proof that climate change is largely responsible for the dramatic increase in the intensity and devastation caused by hurricanes in the Caribbean.
Building back better, must be based on ‘thinking outside of the box.’ As the nation of Sint Maarten rebuilds, going back to pre-Irma thinking is no longer possible; a new mindset is required in the post-Irma/Maria era in order to build a climate-resilient nation. We cannot allow disaster risk to outpace resilience. If we do not change, we will be bound to repeat disaster with catastrophic consequences. #SXMStrong