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Dominica hopes to 'rebuild better' after hurricane devastation

STR/AFP | A view of some of the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in Roseau, Dominica.

Hurricane Maria struck the island of Dominica on September 18 as a Category 5 storm that killed 15 people and changed the lives of almost everyone on this island nation of just 73,000 inhabitants.


Unlike most of the other Caribbean islands devastated by hurricanes in recent weeks, Dominica is independent and cannot hope for aid to pour in from a wealthy parent nation overseas.

A state of emergency was imposed on the island on September 20 that introduced a daily curfew from 4pm until 8am the following morning.

Recovery efforts remain focused on delivering aid to the people still living in shelters, restoring power to homes and clearing the debris from destroyed homes and landmarks. But efforts will soon begin focusing on reconstructing homes and government offices that can better withstand the strong storms that occasionally strike the region, UN Assistant Secretary-General Jessica Faieta told Reuters this week.

Rebuilding offers an opportunity to rebuild “better” and limit the devastations from future hurricanes, she said.

“Seeing the devastation, obviously investing in a reconstruction that becomes resilient, of building back better becomes extremely important for the Caribbean,” said Faieta, who also heads the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“We are going to see more of these (disasters) ... such weather is going to become the norm rather than the exception,” Faieta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Dominica’s mountainous terrain is also prone to landslides triggered by the heavy rains that accompany powerful storms, making reforestation a priority.

The UN says that Hurricane Maria “totally decimated” Dominica’s agricultural sector, and reconstruction may include planting crops that are more resistant to high winds, including oil palms.

Reconstruction costs for the Caribbean have been estimated in the billions of dollars. Faieta said regional economies need help to set up emergency funds to deal with similar disasters.

“There has to be some sort of financing for them,” Faieta said. “It’s simply not realistic that the domestic resources will cover something like this.”

The Caribbean Development Bank, based in Barbados, has already offered emergency grants and loans to member countries to help cover the immediate costs of cleanup in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the first devastating storm to hit the region this year. Irma and the powerful storms that followed have triggered payouts of nearly $51 million (€43 million) from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, including a $19 million payment to Dominica last week.

The United Kingdom has provided 20 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Dominica in Maria’s aftermath, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) airlifted more than 45 metric tonnes of emergency relief supplies to Dominica as well as to Saint-Martin and Saint Kitts and Nevis. France was also quick to respond, sending aid to get Dominica's hospitals back up and running.

But gaining access to affected populations remains “a significant challenge to relief operations”, USAID said, since many roads remain closed off. Aid efforts on Dominica are focused on prioritising "humanitarian coordination and logistics support, as well as food, shelter and water assistance", the agency said.

As Irma’s 160mph (257kph) winds bore down on the island, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit documented his experience riding out the storm in real time Facebook posts that quickly went viral.

“The winds are merciless!” he wrote. “We shall survive by the grace of God!”

Then later: “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.”

Skerrit later told Telesur TV that he had been rescued by police but said his island nation had been “devastated”.


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