The recent devastation from Hurricane Michael in Florida is an unfortunate situation repeated in many communities and countries around the world. In the case of many poorer countries, infrastructure is often times built poorly or in unsuitable locations. Natural calamities are a part of life, but if scientists are correct that climate change is intensifying the frequency and ferocity of storms in the Atlantic (and around the world), we have some serious thinking to undertake when it comes to future development.
One can never plan fully for natural disasters, since the full strength of a storm or earthquake is ultimately in God’s hands. However, there may be mitigating approaches that can be taken because, as our Caribbean brothers and sisters can attest, it only takes one hurricane to devastate an economy or set it back for some years. In Barbados we are not without our issues. During the passage of Tropical Storm Kirk, severe flooding affected several communities around the island, with Wotton in particular necessitating dramatic rescue after water levels rose dangerously high in some households. In our case, a flat terrain and developments and buildings being erected in natural watercourses have exacerbated flooding issues.
To that end, we in the Caribbean need a total solution. Though regional leaders have often urged the larger, international countries to curb their greenhouse emissions to limit the effects of climate change on weather phenomenon (particularly for the smaller, developing islands in the world), that has not garnered anything beyond empty promises and even emptier attempts at implementing environmentally sound policies.
We in the Caribbean must therefore take the bull by the horns in protecting ourselves as best we can. One such way in doing so, is by restricting developments in vulnerable areas that are problematic or likelier to have challenges. To not do so invites headaches later. As a result of huge damage done by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, reinsurance rates for the Caribbean were higher than normal, resulting in higher domestic rates in the region. We also know that our islands are particularly vulnerable to coastal damage and should revisit protecting our coastal areas as best as possible.
But more than that, we must ensure that we are able to feed and shelter ourselves in the aftermath of storms. At the Caribbean Week of Agriculture recently, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley spoke on the need for food security for that very reason. As a region, the Caribbean imports US$4 billion in food; that does nothing to help citizens who are literally cut off from receiving supplies for an extended period because of damaged ports or roads that limit transportation of items. It will require the type of investment in agriculture that is visionary-minded to lead the Caribbean into proper, sustainable livelihood for the 21st century. For example, aquaponics can be utilised to rear crops and fish in enclosed systems, which can be a solution for climate change and water scarcity, while requiring less labour and landspace for production. Nothing can withstand the destructive nature of a powerful storm, as even Dominica’s agricultural industries were wiped out after Hurricane Maria; however, better agricultural and environmental strategies such as aquaponics can bounce back much faster in the aftermath of storms.
While our hurricane season runs for a specific time, we are well aware that it takes just one strike to hurt our very vulnerable islands. The more safeguards and proper investments into our food security and natural development we put in place now as a region, the better off we are in the event the worst happens.