Hurricane Dorian’s tragic destruction in the Bahamas was yet another dire warning to the entire Caribbean.
Scientists expect climate change to bring more frequent and more intense storms to the region, among other threats. Though they need time to study larger patterns, recent years seem to support their predictions.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 looked like worst-case scenarios: Both were among the largest and most powerful storms in history. But in many ways, Dorian’s grind over the Bahamas was worse.
The storm moved very slowly, battering the country for much longer than Irma stayed here. And the 10-20-foot storm surge in the low-lying islands inundated thousands of homes and other buildings, meaning that residents couldn’t hide from the winds in lower floors as many did here during Irma.
Hundreds, if not thousands, remain missing in the Bahamas, and the official death toll of 50 is expected to rise dramatically in the coming days. Many bodies will never be recovered.
In the face of such devastation, every country and territory across the Caribbean should ask itself if it has done all it can to prepare for mega-storms and other possible effects of climate change, which include rising sea levels, heavier rainfalls, death of marine life including coral, prolonged droughts and others.
In most jurisdictions — including in the Virgin Islands — we fear the answer is no.
To fight back, the Caribbean must overcome the disunity that has long been exacerbated by geography, language barriers and politics and come together with a common purpose.
The solidarity evidenced by the Dorian relief efforts here and abroad is an important step in the right direction. But that sense of community must continue year-round, and the region must speak with one voice to let the rest of the world know the deadly threats facing one of the world’s most vulnerable regions. Sharing data and knowledge is also critical, as are regional adaptation programmes.
On the local level, the way forward for the VI is equally clear.
As soon as possible, leaders should revisit the territory’s 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Policy: The well-conceived strategy, which largely has been ignored since it was adopted seven years ago, contains scores of sound recommendations with two-to-four-year deadlines that mostly have been missed. A five-year public review of the policy was due in 2017, but it never happened.
The new government should also reverse its unconscionable April decision to revoke the membership of the Climate Change Trust Fund board, which has not been replaced since, and start directing a large portion of the $10 tourist-arrival levy into the fund as required by law.
The new government periodically has paid lip service to climate change, but so far its actions have not matched its rhetoric. This apparent apathy is deeply troubling. The Caribbean is facing an emergency, and the time to act is now.