Fri | Nov 24, 2017

British tycoon calls for sustainable rebuilding of hurricane-battered Caribbean

Published:Sunday | October 15, 2017 | 11:03 AM
Sir Richard Branson

WASHINGTON, CMC – British tycoon Sir Richard Branson has called for rebuilding hurricane-ravaged Caribbean islands with more durable housing and sustainable energy to limit the damage of future storms.

Sir Richard, who rode out massive category-5 hurricanes Irma and Maria last month on his private Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, compared the devastation in the region to that of a nuclear blast.

“None of us hunkering down in the basement in Necker Island were prepared for its force and its intensity,” he said in a discussion of natural disasters at the World Bank’s annual meetings in Washington on Friday.

But after the two storms wrecked the tourism-dependent economies of the region, destroying homes and taking out power supplies for weeks, Branson said the region’s leaders need to take the long view and invest more to better survive meteorological disasters.

With global warming, he said, the annual hurricane season could just worsen, he said.

“Another storm could strike within the coming weeks,” Branson said. “The Caribbean must seize the opportunity and take the leap from 20th century technology to 21st century innovation.

“These island states have a great opportunity to build greener and more resilient communities than ever before, setting shining examples of what climate-smart recovery around the world can and should look like,” he added.

Branson, a billionaire who created Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic airline, said that the region was too dependent on imported fuels and centralised power systems, adding that, in some countries, imported fuel consumes up to a quarter of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“You don’t have to ship in sunshine on expensive boats,” he said, pointing to a story of Puerto Rico flower grower Hector Santiago, whose solar system, used for his greenhouses and pumping water, was back up within hours after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico.

“That’s the type of resilience I would like to see go to scale” in the region, Branson said. “The time now is to make this happen.”