Gone with the wind in Dominica
‘It’s all mashed up.’ Dominicans used to reserve this expression for bus crashes, often accompanied by a ‘so sorry for you’ for the hapless victims. Now it could be used to describe the entire island.
Last September, Hurricane Maria swept through the eastern Caribbean, lingering for six deadly hours over the lush forest cover and vulnerable villages in Dominica, one of the region’s poorest countries.
Maria’s 280-kilometre-an-hour winds almost wiped out the island’s flimsy housing stock, destroying 62 per cent of all dwellings and severely damaging the electrical grid. It stripped away most of the vegetation, turning the island’s green shades brown. Dominica’s small population of 71,000 has been depleted by 57 casualties and the departure of hundreds of residents, at least temporarily.
Dominica, like many small islands in the Global South, has become ‘a canary in the mine’ for carbon-induced climate degradation. Whether it’s Fiji and the Marshalls in the Pacific, the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean or Haiti and Saint Martin in the Caribbean, islanders are paying a huge price. Research confirms that rising sea temperatures incubate super-storms and hurricanes such as Maria.
Add to this recurrent droughts, floods and rising sea levels that threaten to make low-lying islands disappear and you have a little discussed eco-catastrophe.
The Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, is emerging as a champion of these frontline small-island states. Addressing the UN General Assembly after Maria, he said:
‘We in the Caribbean do not produce greenhouse gases or sulphate aerosols. We do not pollute or overfish our oceans. We have made no contribution to global warming that can move the needle.’
Dominica is now rallying to rebuild in a more climate-appropriate manner: renewable energy based on solar and thermal power, buildings better able to withstand extreme weather, and agricultural self-reliance through climate-smart technologies and irrigation systems. For, as Skerritt told Al-Jazeera recently: ‘This is a practical situation [not a theoretical one]… this is our life, these are our livelihoods.’