As efforts to rebuild in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria continue, the Caribbean has the unique opportunity to look at what it can do better to prepare, how it can be more resilient and how it can serve as a role model for other countries across the world facing or recovering from natural disasters, according to former President Bill Clinton.
Presiding over the opening session Monday of the Clinton Global Initiative’s conference on St. Thomas, Clinton drilled down to real life examples of commitments made within the region to build more resilient communities and the partnerships that are supporting them. He also encouraged the audience – more than 400 representatives from different regional governments, private businesses, non-profits and academic institutions – to use those examples, such efforts being made on St. John to stockpile critical disaster relief materials and supplies, to figure out “what we’re all supposed to do, how quickly we need to do it and in what order we need to do things.”
“With the hurricane season upon us once again, this work is more urgent than ever,” he said. “Climate change is now forcing the whole planet, at least the part that’s not in denial about it, to rethink what disaster preparedness requires and what resilience means.”
CGI’s mission is to bring together the stakeholders needed to set those regional goals and execute them, and in many ways, the organization also serves as a conduit to human resources, training and even financing to ensure those goals are realized. Monday, Clinton said that since CGI’s Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery launched last year, 86 commitments have been made that when fully funded and implemented will have: provided 227,000 people with unique training opportunities in disaster preparedness; built or renovated more than 200 community facilities and more than 500 public housing units; planted more than 750,000 trees; created more than 1,600 full time jobs; and distributed more than $4.5 million to small businesses and entrepreneurs, among other things.
But there’s more to do, he added. Recovering from back to back Category 5 hurricanes makes the Caribbean “ground zero” for a quick and comprehensive disaster resilience strategy, and Clinton encouraged the audience to look at what’s being done in areas where the damage is most extensive to build back. Speaking locally, Clinton honored efforts made by V.I. American Federation of Teachers members to provide more than 9,000 health screenings for public school children in the wake of the storms and the partnership with disaster relief agency Airlink that helped bring health care professionals in from the mainland to get it done.
Clinton also spoke about partnerships being formed that will help provide backup power to emergency operations centers in Puerto Rico and washed hygiene products that can be produced and distributed locally to women before and after disasters. This is the kind of work, he said, that helps take preparedness to another level and stands out as examples for others to follow.
Monday’s session wrapped up with a panel that allowed speakers such as Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit to share what they have been doing to make their communities more resilient, including, in the case of Dominica, setting up an agency to deal with issues relating to climate resilience.
Skerrit said a partnership with CGI since 2012 has allowed the island nation to build its geothermal-energy base and move forward with an overall goal of eliminating its dependency on fossil fuel. An additional partnership with the World Bank, which has helped with financing and the availability of climate experts, has also given Dominica the chance to look at climate change more holistically and Skerrit said Monday that the government has already been looking at putting in place the top officials for the initiative and an advisory board.
“We shouldn’t wait for a disaster to happen to act,” Skerrit said. “We’re in the hurricane belt and based on what science is saying, we’re going to be impacted more frequently by ferocious storms. We have the opportunity now to more resilient in an organized manner.”