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PM promotes ‘Caribbean-type evacuations’

  • Dr. Hubert Minnis.

Senior Business Reporter

Published: Sep 18, 2017

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With an increasing threat of devastating weather systems to the Caribbean, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said a time may come for widescale “Caribbean-type evacuations” to protect the safety and future of the region.

Standing beside Grenada Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, chairman of the Caribbean Community CARICOM), Minnis said the Caribbean suffered a massive blow from Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, which claimed more than 60 lives — 38 in the Caribbean and 23 in the United States.

Mitchell, CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque and other senior representatives of CARICOM met with Minnis at the British Colonial Hilton on Saturday.

Underscoring the region’s vulnerability to climate change in a press briefing, Minnis said, “Their visit here is especially significant, because what it points out is that the strength of hurricanes [is] becoming more aggressive.

“We must consider with time how we are going to embark on, if necessary, a time may come, [for] Caribbean-type evacuations, to ensure safety of all of our Caribbean nations and every individual within the territory, especially [because] we are a growing nation — the entire Caribbean nation — we are growing, and it is essential for us to protect the future of the Caribbean.

“In order to protect it, we must ensure [its] safety, especially from the psychological trauma and insult that can occur as a result of hurricanes, not necessarily death as we know it in the true sense, but the psychological death, which can be even more devastating than death as we know it in the true sense.

“We can have an entire generation lost, and they are here to ensure that we are all on board; trying to save the future of the Caribbean, and understanding how to protect ourselves moving forward.”

Minnis pointed to Irma’s impact in the southern islands of The Bahamas like Ragged Island, which was deemed uninhabitable in the storm’s wake.

The small island has fewer than 70 residents.

“The Caribbean suffered similar... devastation,” Minnis said.

“They (CARICOM officials) are on a fact-finding mission to make a determination as to how we can rebuild, not The Bahamas, but the entire Caribbean, and how we can help each other.”

At its peak, Irma raged over Antigua, St. Martin, St. Barts, Anguilla, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos and parts of The Bahamas with record winds of over 180 miles per hour.

Several of these Caribbean islands were flattened.

Irma also battered Cuba’s coast, killing at least 10 people, according to international reports.

Mitchell said Irma impacted more countries in the Caribbean than any other hurricane before it.

He said the region has a loud collective voice, but questioned the “collective listening voice” when it comes to climate change.

“In this age of science and technology it is kind of surprising that anyone with any serious position can be talking about climate change is a hoax,” he said.

“This is frightening because it is there, and a practicable demonstration is every single [storm]; it is right in front of us.

“So, clearly we will be; I know your prime minister, myself and other colleagues, I know that is going to be the talking point.

“As I mentioned at the conference in October with the World Bank and all the institutions — financial and otherwise — will be in Washington, and we will use another forum to make that case as strong as possible.”

LaRocque echoed that climate change is present, and the region must come together to support nation states amid these kinds of disasters.

The issue of climate change has been hard to miss, as it has been divisive.

Mainstream scientific institutions accept global warming as a real occurrence.

Looking at The Bahamas’ closest neighbor, the United States, there is a divide with skeptics on one side and believers on the next.

U.S. President Donald Trump previously called climate change a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese.

Despite back- to-back storms — Hurricanes Irma and Harvey — dealing widespread damage in Texas and Florida, Trump told U.S. media on Friday there have been larger storms recorded in the 30s and 40s, dodging climate change questions.

Minnis indicated that a greater appeal will be made to developed nations on this matter and to commit more funds for disaster aid.

“I hope they would see what we are talking about, because it is a serious problem, especially here in The Bahamas, where our GDP is greatly affected,” the prime minister said.

Notwithstanding the assistance from the international community, Mitchell added that Caribbean nations must help each other.

“We need to do everything we can to make each other feel we are there for them, and as the prime minister would know, we had an emergency meeting of heads in a video conference, and we agreed that we start a... conference very soon in the region, which looks at raising resources from inside and outside the region for the entire reconstruction effort of the countries affected,” he said.

“That should be done very soon.”

Climate change was a familiar speaking point for former Prime Minister Perry Christie, a former CARICOM chairman, both at home and on the international stage.

He consistently emphasized the need to mitigate against the posed risk of global warming and the potentially devastating blow.

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