Barbudans wait for a plane to head back to Antigua after attending the Thanksgiving service in Barbuda, 16 January 2018. Photo: Salwan Georges / The Washington Post

By Peter Richards
30 December 2017

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) – In 2017, the Caribbean felt the full brunt of climate change with a warning that current trends indicate that there will be no respite.

Within a two-week period, Hurricanes Irma and Maria brought home the reality of the impact of climate change as they churned their way across the Lesser Antilles destroying everything in their paths. Hurricane Harvey had in August set the stage for what was to come; with devastation in Houston, Texas, amounting to nearly US$200billion.

“The unprecedented nature of this climatic event highlights the unusual nature of weather patterns that continue to affect nations across the globe,” the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Secretary General Irwin LaRocque said in a message to United States President Donald Trump, as Harvey made landfall in the United States after whipping up strong winds and heavy rains in the Caribbean.

It took less than a month for his statement to bear fruit. Hurricanes Irma and Maria, two Category 5 storms left so many Caribbean islands devastated in September that the Caricom Chairman and Grenada's Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell said “there can be no question that for us in the Caribbean, climate change is an existential threat”.

The islands dealt the hardest blow were Barbuda where the entire population had to be evacuated to the larger island of Antigua, Dominica where at least 30 people were killed, Anguilla, The Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, The British Virgin Islands and St Kitts-Nevis.

“The task of rebuilding is beyond us,” LaRocque noted as Caribbean countries put the cost of the damage at billions of dollars.

“With physical and emotional difficulty, I have left my bleeding nation to be with you here today, because these are the moments for which the United Nations exists,” Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as he pleaded for international assistance to rebuild his battered country.

“We dug graves today in Dominica! We buried loved ones yesterday; and I am sure that as I return home tomorrow, we shall discover additional fatalities, as a consequence of this encounter. Our homes are flattened, our buildings roofless, our water pipes smashed, and road infrastructure destroyed.

“Our hospital is without power, and schools have disappeared beneath the rubble. Our crops are uprooted. Where there was green, there is now only dust and dirt. The desolation is beyond imagination,” an emotional Skerrit said, noting that Caribbean countries do not produce greenhouse gases or sulphate aerosols, nor do they pollute or overfish the oceans.

“We have made no contribution to global warming that can move the needle. But yet, we are among the main victims – on the frontline,” he added. [more]

Caribbean wobbles under the impact of climate change

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