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Posted: Friday 20 October, 2017 at 4:27 PM

Resilient infrastructures needed to combat hurricanes

An area in Barbuda after the landfall of Hurricane Irma
By: Stanford Conway, SKNVibes.com

    BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – HURRICANES are dangerous, very dangerous. Not only do they cause severe damage to homes and infrastructures, but they also take lives and destabilise a country’s economy, especially when it is heavily dependent on tourism as in the case of St. Kitts and Nevis and a number of other Caribbean islands.

     

    With the recent catastrophic passage of the two Category five storms, Hurricanes Irma and Maria, we have seen the destruction of Barbuda. Its entire population left homeless and its buildings reduced to empty shells, as all residents on that island had to seek refuge in sister isle Antigua.

    We also saw what Hurricane Irma did to Anguilla, the island of Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin and Cuba, as well as what Hurricane Maria did to the Commonwealth of Dominica, Puerto Rico, the USVI and the BVI. 

    Many lives were lost...27 in Dominica; an island that was slowly recovering from the 2015 devastated effects of Hurricane Erika in which some 20 people had reportedly lost their lives.

    Luckily, St. Kitts and Nevis had only suffered minor damage from the passage of Hurricane Maria, when compared to those islands.

    However, following the passage of these hurricanes, there are a number of lessons that governments have learnt and they need to put systems in place in order to minimise future occurrences. But before speaking to what is necessary to implemento, let us look at what causes hurricanes.

    Formation and growth of Hurricanes

    Every year, we in this part of the globe brace ourselves for the impact of hurricanes.The hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on November 30.

    In answering the question of how storms form and grow, a staff member of the National Geographic posited that it is caused by “warm ocean water plus the earth’s eastward rotation”.

    The staff writer also noted that in an interview with meteorologist Jeff Masters of the website Weather Underground, he said: “They’re heat engines. They take heat from the oceans and convert it to the energy of their winds. They’re taking thermal energy and making mechanical energy out of it.”

    The writer further stated that the natural engine that is a hurricane is fuelled by warm, moist air. The storms move heat from the ocean surface high into earth’s atmosphere and that they could travel thousands of miles from the tropics toward the earth’s poles.

    According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Center, the average hurricane eye - the still center where pressure is lowest and air temperature is highest - stretches 20 to 30 miles across, with some even growing as large as 120 miles wide.

    Climate Change and Hurricanes

    In an interview with The Telegraph, Richard Allan, a Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading, said he believes that the hurricanes people have seen are made worse by Climate Change.

    He intimated that particularly strong seasonal warming this year (2017) has made conditions ripe for a hurricane: Hurricanes, or tropical cyclones, require a set of atmospheric ingredients to form.

    “Warm upper ocean water provides the most vital hurricane fodder - energy and water. But changes in wind and moisture with altitude are also key and the rotation of the earth increasingly spins these storms up as they travel away from the equator. Especially strong seasonal warming this year combined with the other factors mentioned, partly relating to natural ocean fluctuations, have made conditions ripe for tropical cyclones to form in the Atlantic.”

    He explained to The Telegraph that Climate Change could exacerbate this: “While weather explains the formation and track of these tropical beasts, additional heating due to emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities will inevitably make them more deadly. Extra energy from warmer waters increases the intensity of the winds in the strongest cyclones while a warmer atmosphere is able to suck in greater quantities of moisture which is dumped as more intense rainfall.

    “Rising sea level due to oceans expanding as they warm and more ice melt from glaciers and ice sheets on land add to the size of ocean storm surges which can devastate coastal regions, including low lying islands. So while the fickle nature of the atmosphere and ocean have generated deadly storms this year, their impacts have been amplified by human-caused Climate Change.”

    The fallacy of high-income Caribbean countries

    Most of the independent countries in the Caribbean region were once British colonies, while countries such as Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands are still under colonial rule. Also, countries such as Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are overseas territories of the United States of America.

    Unlike St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, which were affected by the two hurricanes, those US and British overseas territories have and will continue to get assistance from their mother countries.

    However, due to the fact that those small developing independent Caribbean countries have been categorised as “high-income”, they are being denied access to concessional financing and grant funding from international financial institutions and donor governments, as explained by Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne.

    While addressing attendees at the recently-held 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, PM Browne painstakingly outlined the challenges being faced by islands in the Caribbean region following the catastrophic passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and used the opportunity to seek a better deal for small island developing states.

    He told the gathering that preliminary estimates have placed the cost of rebuilding Barbuda at about US$250 million. “That figure, Mr. President, represents 15 percent or more, of my country’s Gross Domestic Product of approximately $1.5 billion. It is simply a stretch beyond our reach,” he added.

    Browne also categorically stated that “it is patently obvious that the per capita income criterion is a skewed and flawed determinant. It should be eliminated and eliminated immediately”.

    Hurricane Resilience

    Because we in the Caribbean region have to be prepared every year for the hurricane season, many people live in fear for those six months and the governments’ coffers are normally drained when these storms make landfall.

    It was therefore suggested that all countries in the Caribbean region that have experienced the devastated effects of hurricanes should now be engaged in the building of resilient structures.

    Prime Minister Browne had said that hurricanes are stronger and bigger because they are absorbing moisture from increasingly warmer seas, which is caused by global warming. 

    He pointed out that global warming is a man-made phenomenon, “whose manufacture is attributable to those nations that consume 80 percent or more of the world’s primary energy, emitting dangerous levels of pollution into the atmosphere”.

    He intoned that all 14 Caribbean Community countries together produce less than 0.1 percent of global emissions.

    “We are the least of the polluters, but the largest of the casualties. The unfairness, injustice and inequality are painfully obvious. If these frequent and brutal storms are to be withstood, Caribbean islands, and certain parts of the United States, need to construct more resilient buildings and infrastructure than now exists. This means that the international developmental and financial institutions need to provide financing at concessionary rates without artificial impediments.”

    With international financial institutions viewing these small developing states as “high-income”, governments will then have to develop and implement strategies to ensure their countries are hurricane resilient.

    In St. Kitts and Nevis, the government had recently announced the introduction of a Hurricane Relief Fund (HRF) as a third option of the Federation’s Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Programme at a price pegged at US$150,000.

    According to Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris, the HRF is a new unique product not offered by any other country and that it would compete in the marketplace along with the two original products of the CBI - the real estate and SIDF options.

    This move drew heavy criticisms from the Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Denzil Douglas, who claimed that it is an act to undercut and undermine the desperate recovery efforts of Dominica and Barbuda by reducing the value of the investment contribution by 50%.

    However, in response, Dr. Harris said: “This price point is 50% higher than the US$100,000 set by Dominica and St. Lucia for their donation options.” He added that the offer is for a limited short timeframe of six months.

    PM Harris told the nation that Les Khan, the CEO of the Citizenship by Investment Unit, had recommendation the implementation of the HRF after the damage caused by the passage of Hurricane Irma, but it was delayed until after the battering of Hurricane Maria on September 19 and 20. Damage by those two hurricanes to the public sector was estimated at EC$150M.

    The government is seeking to attract 4,000 applicants in six months and, should the administration be successful, the Federation could earn US$600M. From that amount of money, the government could easily fund not only the EC$150M hurricane damage to the public sector, but also continue to assist other affected countries as well as reinforce the public sector structures to become hurricane resilient.

    Additionally, pipelines and roadways could be installed for those who are farming in remote areas, as well as providing them with soft loans to ensure large scale production of essential items to enhance food security.

    The Hurricane Relief Fund should not be used for agendas outside its initial intent. Therefore, knowing that the CBI option is only for six months, efforts must be made to maintain its viability by promoting regular fundraising activities, investing in green energy and installing underground utility facilities in the face of Climate Change and global warming.

    Not only in St. Kitts and Nevis should this be done, but in all hurricane-prone islands in the Caribbean region.

    Suggestions by ECCB’s Governor

    Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Timothy Antoine is also of the view that the Caribbean region needs to build resilient infrastructures to withstand the effects of hurricanes.

    In a recent interview at the World Bank’s meeting in Washington, DC, Antoine said: “In the case of the Caribbean, I think a key part of it is that we have to build resilient infrastructure. So, our ports or airports, our power plants, we have to build with resilience in mind.

    “The aim of the Caribbean at this moment is to become the first climate smart, climate resilient region in the world. We are on the frontlines, we are among the lowest emitters, but we are the hardest hit. And we have no choice but to build back with resilience and climate resilience.” 

    He explained that a coalition of parties is being developed to access financial and other resources including climate finance funds.

    Antoine posited that for the future, he is seeing resilient infrastructure that is green; a complete transition that is green. “In other words, a combination of geothermal, solar - wind in some cases - to begin to completely transform our energy situation, and in a process not just to build resilience but also energy security for the region. I think that’s a big, big push that we will have to make right now.”

    Addressing the issue of “high-income” in which developed countries have categorised some islands in the Caribbean region, the ECCB Governor intimated that it is senseless to talk about high and middle incomes when those islands have been devastated by hurricanes and lack concessionary financing to recover as well as to build resilience.

    “If you ever had hit of 200% of GDP, the income is irrelevant. You are vulnerable, the country is basically flat, it’s smashed to pieces [and] you have to put it back together.

    “And I remind people, when Hurricane Katrina hit the US in 2005, as bad as that was, that was 1% of US GDP. In the case of Grenada, I learned it was 200% of GDP. In the case of Dominica, we are told it’s around 200% of GDP. And in the case of Katrina, it was one part of a state in the US; in the case of Dominica, it was the entire country. So it is an analytical absurdity to be talking about high-income and middle-income in that kind of devastation. 

    “Therefore, what we have to see is a revision of the arrangement, such that there can be access to funding for these countries are grants, soft loans as well as, of course, technical assistance.”

    Conclusion

    Every year, citizens and residents in this part of the world enjoy six worry-free months but expect to be plagued by strong winds, thunderstorms and sometimes devastating hurricanes over a six-month period. Therefore, if the governments of hurricane-prone countries in the Caribbean region do not quickly build resilient structures, they might be reduced to a state of mendicancy.

    In addition to investing in green energy and the installation of underground utility facilities, there must also be a revamping of the building code for both public and private sectors.

    With regards to the category of “high-income”, there must be a collaborative effort by Caribbean political leaders to lobby for a change of that analytical absurdity, as mentioned by Governor Antoine.

    The Caribbean region is the least among those countries that are responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases, which have greatly contributed to Climate Change.

    According to the UK Guardian, the current top 10 emitters of greenhouse gasses are as follow:

    1. China 9,697 - million metric tonnes or 28.6%;
    2. United States of America - 5,420 million tonnes or 16%;
    3. India - 1,967 million metric tonnes or 5.8%
    4. Russia – 1,829 million metric tonnes or 5.4%;
    5. Japan – 1,43 million metric tonnes or 3.7%;
    6. Germany – 810 million metric tonnes or 2.4%;
    7. South Korea – 609 million metric tonnes or 1.7%;
    8. Canada – 555 million metric tonnes or 1.6%;
    9. Indonesia – 490 million metric tonnes or 1.4%; and 
    10. Saudi Arabia – 464 million metric tonnes or 1.4%.

    It is there incumbent upon Caribbean political leaders to stress the importance of accessibility to concessional financing and soft loans from international financial institutions.

    In the military, especially during wars and rumours of war, every soldier is reminded that: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

    In the case of St. Kitts and Nevis, are we prepared? If yes, then where is the plan?

    The government has introduced a Hurricane Relief Fund as a third option of the Federation’s CBI Programme that has a six-month lifespan. After that, what? 

    The government should however be commended for the creation of that fund while having the perfect vehicle to so do, but at the end of the day, what is it that the administration hoping to gain? Where is the master plan, the leadership and governance that would showcase to the rest of the Caribbean region and the world that St. Kitts and Nevis is forward-thinking?

    Indeed, with the imminent challenges that we face in the Caribbean, this is the perfect opportunity for the sitting government to lead.

    This is not the time for political rhetoric, such as the back and forth issue of citizenship and diplomatic passports, which are merely distractions. The real issue is what will be done for the people to protect themselves from Climate Change in the long term.
     
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