Wed | Oct 16, 2019

Caribbean will be destroyed if we don act fast on climate change - Chastanet

Published:Sunday | December 3, 2017 | 12:09 AMJanet Silvera
Boys wade through flood waters caused by heavy rains brought on by Hurricane Irma, in Fort-Liberte, Haiti in September.
Allen Chastanet, prime minister of St Lucia, addressing the UNWTO Conference in Montego Bay, St James, last week.


Prime Minister of St Lucia Allen Chastanet is warning that the Caribbean runs the risk of being completely destroyed if international development agencies don’t react quickly to the dangers posed by climate change.

Chastanet, who was attending the just-concluded three-day United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth, added that time is running out and the bureaucracy involved in getting funding to build resilience is no longer an option.

“Monies we are borrowing have to be at commercial rates and we can’t get access to funds. When we do get access there is this long bureaucracy that we have to go through to draw down,” he said. 

Chastanet is also arguing that the debt should be quantified and classified differently, not as traditional debt.

With no holds barred, the St Lucian prime minister, who is also chairman of the Small Islands Development States (SIDS), said there was fear and helplessness, “because we can’t help ourselves".

Said Chastanet: "What we have been out arguing is that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) needs to reclassify us on the vulnerability index, because our economies are too small and we can’t handle these big shocks. In absolute terms, a hurricane wipes out Dominica’s GDP in eight hours.”

He is suggesting the creation of a separate fund, that is not about emergency but about building resilience, and notes that all it takes is a pen to make the change.

“As the SIDS we are being penalised and we are not the ones who created the problem in the first place, global warming did… carbon emissions did. The SIDS only contributes to half of one per cent of global emissions.”

The numerous application forms to get funding is also a major issue.

 “If I am going to get money from the British, I have to do an application, plus hire the people to do the technical studies," Chastanet said. "If I don’t get through with the money, then I now go to CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency); I have to start all over again. We can’t use the same info over and over again. And so there is this long drawn out process to get the monies and we are saying resilience building cannot be looked at as traditional funding.”

In the meantime, he said people who can afford to leave the region are leaving.

“These are people who serve on our boards… community leaders… how do we replace them?”

He also pointed out that, in nine months, the next hurricane season “is upon us” and those who didn’t get hit this year, “more than likely will get hit next year".

“So if the world is not going to do their part, which is to live up to its commitment of limiting global warming to 1.5 (degrees Celcius), currently, they are predicting 3, where are we going,” he questioned.

“The Caribbean can be completely destroyed if we don’t react. The singular most important thing that we have to do as leaders right now is this climate change issue, because we can’t control it. We can only protect ourselves by building resilience. We cannot call up God and say 'hold up, because we don’t have the capacity'.”

Chastanet further noted that while countries have been getting insurance, at some point “we are going to become uninsurable if we don’t build the resilience”.

“If you don’t build the drains, don’t put utilities underground, the amount of damage annually is going to keep mounting,” he added. “We have to accept the fact that we are going to have these hurricanes and build the necessary infrastructure.”

Chastanet said countries like Puerto Rico and Dominica, which were hard hit by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, are having a hard time recovering from devastating losses and where the people are hard pressed to get on with their lives.

“Puerto Rico, which is a big hub for cruise ships, is not functional, which means ships that were coming into the Eastern Caribbean are not coming,” he noted.

"St Lucians living and working in the British Virgin Islands and St Martin and the United States Virgin Islands are not sending remittances anymore, that money is not being qualified, nobody is measuring that lost. There is also massive amount of opportunity cost, as in the case of Dominica, all the businesses are closed. When you talk about getting US$30 million to get the place back up and running, it doesn’t even come close to fixing the long-term problems.”