As the peak of the 2018 hurricane season progresses, Britain is on standby as its Caribbean overseas territories remain vulnerable after the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria a year earlier.
In the Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos Islands, repairs on many homes and businesses are incomplete and works on wrecked infrastructure are still getting under way. Recovery from the two powerful Category 5 hurricanes is a challenge for these small societies.
In particular, Irma inflicted catastrophic damage on the VI, whose losses are estimated at more than $3 billion — three times the territory’s gross domestic product. The tourism sector, which was largely wiped out, accounted for the largest share of employment and economic activity on the islands, whose population is roughly 30,000. Rebuilding the industry will take another two years.
Britain will back up to $400 million in loans to the local government, which will add to the $115 million the territory has already borrowed on its own from the Caribbean Development Bank to fund the recovery. This will significantly increase the debt burden of the islands, which have been self-funded for the past 40 years.
The UK is also providing $13 million in grants, which is earmarked in part for administrative purposes and which is currently paying for ongoing cleanup of debris from the 2017 hurricanes.
This was the financial package agreed by the UK government after it opted not to provide direct grants for reconstruction and not to use the UK aid budget to assist its hurricane-affected territories because the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee rules restrict aid spending on high- and middle-income countries.
At the same time, Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, two high- and upper-middle-income countries also struck by the hurricanes, each received tens of millions of dollars in British aid to support their recoveries.
The UK’s limited direct financial support to its Caribbean territories for reconstruction brings into question the extent of Britain’s responsibilities to the British OTs after a disaster.
The UK met its sovereign obligation to assist the territories in the period after hurricanes Irma and Maria struck, but treated them as foreign entities when it came to funding their recovery. This paradox is a function of the ambiguous status of the territories in relation to the UK.
Being located in far-flung places around the globe, the OTs are not an integral part of Britain, but maintain a constitutional link to the mainland that is responsible for their internal security, defence and areas of external affairs not devolved to them.
Any UK government spending of British taxpayer dollars on the territories not eligible for grant-in-aid is largely a political decision, even where it concerns their recovery after a disaster.
By any measure, this is not an efficient means by which to operate during or immediately after a hurricane or emergency when lives are at stake or there is a pressing need for support.
Clarification is urgently needed on Britain’s responsibilities in this area before another disaster strikes its Caribbean territories, which are located in the heart of the hurricane belt.
Britain should treat its OTs as valued parts of the UK family with whom it shares a long history and to whom it has continuing obligations until their status changes.
Mr. Wheatley is a policy fellow at Cambridge University’s Centre for Science and Policy and the former Virgin Islands representative to the United Kingdom and European Union.