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Dominica, a country exposed to hurricane massacre

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Dominica, a country exposed to hurricane massacre

Sohail Choudhury

Dominica, an island country in the Caribbean has grabbed news headlines in recent years because of hundreds of foreign nationals ever-increasing interest in buying citizenship in exchange for just one hundred thousand dollars. But, selling of citizenship is not the only source of earnings for the politicians and officials in Dominica, they also are engaged in selling diplomatic passports and even appointing foreign nationals as Dominica’s envoys in a number of countries, where this tiny island even has no presence. Our team of investigative reporters is working on finding information centering corruption and numerous forms of crimes that have been taking place in Dominica. This episode is about how Dominica has been repeatedly facing natural catastrophe due to the hurricane, which had always almost destroyed its economic progress.

Dominica, a small island country in the Caribbean is especially vulnerable to hurricanes as the island is located in what is referred to as the hurricane region. In 1979, Hurricane David struck the island as a Category 4 hurricane, causing widespread and extreme damage. On 17 August 2007, Hurricane Dean, a Category 1 hurricane at the time, hit the island. A mother and her seven-year-old son died when a landslide caused by the heavy rains crushed their house. In another incident, two people were injured when a tree fell on their house. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit estimated that 100 to 125 homes were damaged and that the agricultural sector was extensively damaged, in particular the banana crop. In August 2015, Tropical Storm Erika caused extensive flooding and landslides across the island. Multiple communities were evacuated and upwards of 30 people were killed. According to a Rapid Damage and Impact Assessment prepared for Dominica by the World Bank, the total damage and losses from the storm were US$484.82 million or 90% of Dominica’s yearly GDP. Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017 and caused losses of approximately US$930 million or 226% of GDP.

In November 2019, National Geographic Channel in a feature article titled ‘This Caribbean island is on track to become the world’s first ‘hurricane-proof’ country’ said: “It started in the evening on September 18, two years ago. The winds picked up; waves began crashing ashore with intensity; the skies darkened.

Unbeknownst to the people of Dominica, Hurricane Maria was slowly gathering the strength it needed to destroy over 90 percent of the island’s structures, cripple its economy, and force a small country that did little to cause climate change to reckon with its consequences.

Yet despite the ominous signs befalling Dominica, many residents say they were no more worried than usual. The tiny Caribbean island, after all, is no stranger to hurricanes. Situated in the eastern Caribbean, Dominica sits just over 500 miles northeast of Caracas, Venezuela and among a string of islands that stich the Caribbean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. And though the soon-to-end 2019 hurricane season spared the nation, it may not be so lucky next year, or the year after.

In the span of a single night, Dominica was torn apart. But from the devastation, the tiny country forged a new goal: to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation, capable of prospering despite a new era of storms made worse by climate change.

The NGC further said:

As Maria approached land, the island’s residents quickly realized the storm would be much worse than they had anticipated.

“We kept listening to the radio to figure out what was going on,” says Ann Aeevieal, a local cook at the Tamarind Tree Hotel. “They said it was a Category 2, and then a Category 3.”

As we continue pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, warming the planet, hurricanes like Maria are expected to grow in number and intensity. Studies have shown that the Atlantic Ocean is heating up, causing storms to become more common, intense, and long-lasting.

Warm ocean water is fuel to a hurricane, powering it like an engine. The warmer the water, the more the engine revs, growing faster, larger, and capable of dumping more water. As Maria neared the Caribbean Sea, it burst to life, a process meteorologist describes as “rapid intensification.”

Stephanie Astaphan, an employee at the island’s Secret Bay hotel, says, “When you’re living in the hurricane belt, you get desensitized. And then Anderson Cooper said, ‘The island of Dominica is about to get a Category 5’ and I had this out-of-body experience.”

Then the storm hit. Local baker Sheila Jelviel lives in Scott’s Head, a southeastern neighborhood where the hurricane struck the hardest. Just after nightfall on September 18, the sea rushed into her home. A small skiff rammed itself through her front door. “We had to go out the window in the back to escape,” she recalls.

Hurricane Erika wiped out an estimated 90 percent of Dominica’s GDP in 2015. By comparison, the World Trade Organization estimates that Hurricane Maria cost Dominica just over two years’ worth of economic output. Financial experts anticipate it will be roughly three more years before Dominica can return to its pre-hurricane state.

“I come to you straight from the front line of the war on climate change,” Skerrit said in his address. “In the past, we would prepare for one heavy storm a year. Now, thousands of storms form on a breeze in the mid-Atlantic and line up to pound us with maximum force and fury.”

Skerrit’s impassioned speech was a plea for the funds to make Dominica into the world’s first fully climate resilient nation. It requires not replacing what was lost, but building for a future where climate change all but guarantees a storm of Maria’s scale will strike again. Dominica is striving to construct not only hurricane-proof buildings but also a diverse economy, including a tourism sector that attracts more high-end spenders and an agricultural system that grows a variety of fruits and vegetables eaten locally, rather than primarily exporting bananas.

What Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told the United Nations was his appeal for large amount for fund enabling the residents of this island country to survive from “thousands of storms form on a breeze in the mid-Atlantic and line up to pound” then with maximum force and fury. In simple words, Dominica is not a good destination for foreign investment, as it is extremely vulnerable to hurricane and “thousands of storms”, which would continue to hit and Dominica’s policymakers do not have the capacity of inventing any method of stopping such natural disasters.

Next episode: Dominica, a smooth base for transnational drug trafficking

Sohail Choudhury is the Executive Editor of Blitz

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Blitz’s Editorial Board is responsible for the stories published under this byline. This includes editorials, news stories, letters to the editor, and multimedia features on WeeklyBlitz.net

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