Build Back Better: The Tiny Island of Dominica Faces New Climate Reality

The island nation of Dominica, once know as a modern-day Garden of Eden, was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The island nation of Dominica, once know as a modern-day Garden of Eden, was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ROSEAU, Dominica, Dec 4 2017 (IPS)

McCarthy Marie has been living in the Fond Cani community, a few kilometres east of the Dominica capital Roseau, for 38 years. The 68-year-old economist moved to the area in 1979 following the decimation of the island by Hurricane David.

But even though David was such a destructive hurricane, Marie told IPS that when Hurricane Maria hit the island in September, islanders witnessed something they had never seen before.“How many of the countries that continue to pollute the planet had to suffer a loss of 224 percent of their GDP this year?” –Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit

“The entire city of Roseau was completely flooded,” Marie told IPS. “There is a major river flowing through the centre of the city. The river rose pretty quickly and that was compounded by the fact that we have five bridges crossing the river and a couple of those bridges, especially those we built more recently, were definitely built too low so they presented a barrier to the river and prevented the water from flowing into the sea as it would otherwise have done.”

Hurricane Maria, a category five storm with sustained winds reaching 180 miles an hour, battered the Caribbean nation for several hours between Sep. 18-19. It left 27 people dead and as many missing, and nearly 90 percent of the structures on the island damaged or destroyed.

Marie said Dominicans have been talking a lot about climate change for quite some time, but the island was not fully prepared for its impacts.

And while Dominicans in general have not been building with monster hurricanes like Maria in mind, Marie said he took an extraordinary step following his experience with Hurricane David.

“I prepared for hurricanes by building my hurricane bunker in 1989 when I built my house. When the storm [Maria] started to get serious, we went into the bunker and we stayed there for the duration of the storm,” he said.

“I have been seeing more and more buildings going up that have concrete roofs but it’s not the standard by far. The usual standard is a house made of concrete and steel with a timber roof. So, most of the houses, the damage they suffered was that the timber roof got taken off and then water got inside the house and damaged all their stuff.

“We need to build houses that can withstand the wind, but the wind is not so much of a big problem. Our big problem is dealing with the amount of water and flooding that we are going to have,” Marie explained.

Like Marie, Bernard Wiltshire, who is a former attorney general here, believes Dominica is big on talk about climate change but the rhetoric does not translate into tangible action on building resilience.

He cited the level of devastation in several countries in the Caribbean over the last hurricane season.

“We certainly did not act fast enough in Dominica, we know that. And from looking at what happened in Puerto Rico and in Antigua and Barbuda, I didn’t see any evidence that we have really come to grips with what is required to make us more resilient in the face of those conditions that are going to confront us,” Wiltshire said.

“It brings us to the question how do we make ourselves more resilient, what do we do? I would say we have to look not just to the question of making buildings stronger and more rigid, but we also have to look at ways in which the community is made more resilient; our pattern of production and consumption, we’ve got really to reorient our society to eliminate the causes that prevent those communities from being able to withstand the effects of these disasters.”

Dominica acts as a microcosm of the climate change threat to the world, and the island’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, has called for millions of dollars of assistance so the country can build the world’s first climate-resilient nation.

“How many of the countries that continue to pollute the planet had to suffer a loss of 224 percent of their GDP this year?” asked Skerrit.

“We have been put on the front line by others. We were the guardians of nature, 60 percent of Dominica is covered by protected rain forests and has been so long before climate change,” he said.

The island’s Gross Domestic Product has been decimated, wiped out due to severe damage to the agriculture, tourism and housing sectors.

It is the second consecutive year that all 72,000 people living on Dominica have been affected by disasters.

Skerrit is convinced that the only way to reduce the number of people affected by future severe weather is to build back better to a standard that can withstand the rainfall, wind intensity and degree of storm surge which they can now expect from tropical storms in the age of climate change.

As Dominica seeks to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation, Skerrit said they cannot do this alone and need international cooperation.

But Wiltshire said Caribbean countries must shoulder some of the blame for climate change.

“I don’t want us in the Caribbean simply to point fingers at the bigger countries and completely ignore our own role. There is a problem I think, in our islands, if not causing climate change, in contributing to the degree of damage that is actually done, the severity of these disasters,” Wiltshire said.

“In Dominica for example, one of the most obvious things was the deluge of debris from the hillsides, from the interior of the country, carried by the rivers down to the coast. It is up there where we have unplanned use of the land, building of roads, the construction of houses without a proper planning regime. So, we ourselves have a role to play in this where for example we are giving away our wetlands and draining them for hotel construction,” he added.

Head of the Caribbean Climate Group Professor Michael Taylor said climate change is happening now and Caribbean residents no longer have the luxury to see it as an isolated event or a future threat.

“I think the first thing that we have to think about is how in the Caribbean are we really perceiving climate change and not necessarily only at the government level but at the individual level, at the community level,” he said.

“Do we perceive climate change as something that is an event or are we beginning to recognise that climate change for us in the Caribbean is a developmental issue? We have to begin to see that climate change is interwoven into every aspect of our lives and it impacts us daily. It’s where you get your water from, the quality of your roads. Until we begin to realise that climate change is interwoven into life then we will always be almost with our foot on the backburner, always trying to catch up.

“We do have resource constraints within the region, we do have other pressing issues which sometimes tend to cloud over both at the community level going right up to the government level, but I think climate has put itself on the forefront of the agenda and that said, we need now to mainstream climate into the very short-term planning and at all levels of community going right up through government and even regional entities,” Taylor added. 

This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world will meet in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

Free-will Marriage

By Hajrah Mumtaz
Dec 4 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

`Chief Minister Sindh, Murad Ali Shah … said: `This is a metropolitan city, not a tribal area where jirgas are held. I would not allow such kind of barbarianism here [sic]`.

Hajrah Mumtaz

These are comments published on Nov 28 as it was reported that an FIR had been registered by the police against the murder of a couple in Karachi that had contracted a `free-will` marriage. In other words, a woman and a man had exercised their right to choose their own partner. Aparently, their fate was ordered by a jirga tribal forums for `justice`that have been declared against the law for over a decade (more about that later). The couple was strangled to death, their bodies stuffed in gunny bags, and delivered to the earth silently.

They belonged originally to the Kohistan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

A few weeks earlier, on Sept 12, also in Karachi, it was reported that the bodies of a young couple would be exhumed for postmortem examination. The investigation found that the pair had indeed been murdered, most probably by their families; apparently they had been tortured and then electrocuted. The reason, again, was that they had had the temerity to decide their own marriage choices, and had therefore invited the ire of their community.

Again, the bodies were silently buried the police only came to know of the case as a result of an informer; a case was then filed on behalf of the state. Here too, the young woman and man were of Pakhtun ethnicity, the murders ordered by a jirga.

Scores of such cases come to light every year, the problem of `honour` killing not seeming to abate despite the state having passed legislation regarding various such and related crimes in this context including swara the practice of giving a woman as a `gift` to an aggrieved family or tribe to settle a dispute, thereby condemning her to a truly hellish future forced marriage and jirga decisions.

While on the subject of legislation, the state is not innocent of ambivalence either: while well-meaning legislation has been passed, it is also a reality that the state has at various times bowed before its own inability to mend a broken formal justice system.

Most recently, for example, the National AssemblypassedinFebruarytheAlternate Dispute Resolution Bill, 2016, which would allow informal but traditional `courts` to settle 23 types of civil and criminal disputes. And for the record or irony it was in October 2016 that a joint session of parliament unanimously approved antihonour killing and rape bills moved byPPP senator Farhatullah Baber, making punishment for those proved guilty tougher than `ordinary` murder cases.

To get back to the point, though, the reality is that in the attempt to change mindsets and centuries-old customs, heinous though they are let us accept `honour` killings as that more is needed than just legislation, or even implementation, absolutely vital as these are. The two crimes recounted above concern the Pakhtun community; but regardless of the Sindh chief minister`s outrage that this occurred in the metropolitan city of Karachi by many estimates the largest Pakhtun city in the world the f act is that this dire reality cannot be pinned on any one or two ethnicities alone.

Sindh has been notorious for such killings, to the extent that several years ago, `free-will` couples started putting in advertisements in Sindhi-language newspapers in connection with their predicament.

Today, they are common: a young womanputs on public record that she has married someone because she wanted to, so that if something happens to her or her husband, the blame can be squarely implic ate d.

It has been argued, with reasonable merit, that what the statistics renect is perhaps not so much in the rise of`honour` crimes but the fact that they are more likely to be reported in recent years partly as a result of increased awareness about legislation on the subject and perhaps even, in some quarters, a modernising mindset of some sections the population (if one can take the liberty of saying that given recent events on the political stage).

And yet, against that is the fact that a young woman was recently telling me about several of her female cousins` elopements, girls that lived outside of urban areas. The reason, she said, was that they weren`t able to stand up to patriarchy when it presented them with an arranged marriage. Some of them, I was told, were hunted down. The others were ostracised.

In the case of one cousin, swara was suggested as a way out by the groom`s family, but the family/jirga jury was out on that.

Perhaps, at this stage, it can only be concluded that it will be a long while before our society catches up to modernity. The writer is a member of staff.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan