I’m standing on a spacious veranda overlooking the sea, feeling joy and deep satisfaction. At last, after a long and arduous process, our new home is nearly finished. Next week we will move in! As I close the door before heading back to our rented house, little do I know that overnight it will be transformed into a pile of rubble, sharing its destiny with other homes on the island of Dominica.
This destructive power to invade our land has been given a pretty and meaningful name of Maria, and it is one of the most active and deadly hurricanes in the Caribbean history. Last Atlantic hurricane season will be long remembered as particularly ruthless. It produced 17 named storms, 10 of which strengthened into hurricanes including two category five monsters, Irma and Maria.
They left an unprecedented path of destruction and death in 12 out of 32 Caribbean countries. Dominica is one of the most affected, because after entering the south east of the island, the hurricane’s direction changed and the cyclone’s eye went along the entire island. No part of land was spared this veracious fury and everyone was affected. With maximum winds of 225 mph, roofs were torn off, buildings collapsed, the power grid and communication network destroyed and lives were lost.
Torrential rains and angry sea added to the destruction. Giant boulders appeared in the middle of devastated roads, homes and cars disappeared under countless landslides. And all this happened in just one night—a transformation to be remembered forever.
Shortly after that night of September 18th I’m in the capital city of Roseau. It looks like a war zone but boasts with activity: cleaning crews are everywhere gathering debris, mud, stumps of broken trees, wrecked cars. Everyone is working as if there is no tomorrow, as they need to win a battle with time. Our village is no different. Neighbours with shovels clean the streets, I hear sounds of chainsaws coming from different directions. We join the party. It feels good to be working and see immediate results. It also lightens the soul tired of looking at such a massive destruction.
Rebuilding this hurricane-devastated island will require considerable aid. As a tiny independent country, Dominica can’t count on help from wealthy nations, but it cannot do without it. Soon after several countries sent military units to help dealing with most urgent emergency efforts, a number of disaster relief organisations come to the island giving much needed assistance. Prince Charles’ visit attracts media attention and results in economic help. Numerous relief funds are set up to bring financial assistance. The momentum is building. I am happy to see that Fort Young – my favourite hotel in town – despite being seriously damaged, works as a hub for aid organisations. It is just one more example of resilience and high-spirited efforts to normalise and improve the situation.
The disastrous events of recent hurricanes show how vulnerable Caribbean Islands are to the outcome of climate change. But this also can be a catalyst to build back better and cleaner, through sustainable, resilient technology. To achieve it, a broader coordination across the hurricane-affected islands is called to life. Rebuilding better to create the world’s first ‘climate smart zone’ is set as a priority for Caribbean nations that signed the Paris agreement. Their goal is climate smart recovery with more durable housing and sustainable energy.
Dominica, like other Caribbean islands, relies heavily on tourism. This unspoiled island with miles of lush rainforest, 365 rivers, dozens of waterfalls and nine active volcanoes truly is a hiker’s paradise. “We are known as Nature Island of the Caribbean,” says Careen Prevost from the Ministry of Tourism, “this is our identity. When I woke up after the hurricane and saw leafless trees, I was horrified; I thought: how are we to manage? But after three months our green nature is making a comeback.”
The island launched a voluntary programme to help restore major natural attractions. Avid hikers are welcome to help rehabilitate the Waitkubuli Trail, while others work on scenic Indian River. Divers help clearing the reefs around Toucari Bay, a popular snorkelling and diving spot. Remarkably, deeper corals and reefs below 45 feet appear to be in a good shape.
Accommodation on the island has changed. Small guest houses and rooms in private homes provide a good option of staying on the island. Some owners of boutique hotels are busy rebuilding; others choose not to come back. It creates a new real estate opportunity – a chance for newcomers to take over, bringing new energy and ideas.
The hurricane created a good moment to invest for those seeking attractive land, or other business opportunities. As all winds of change, it created many vacancies to fill, and will stir the local economy for years to come.
Big hotels under construction before the hurricane, such as Resort Kempinski, continue with work. While some hotel owners are still debating on rebuilding using renewable power, others are ready for it.
“We are looking forward to welcoming all visitors to the island,” says Careen Prevost. Their visit is more important to us now than ever. By coming here they make a big difference to all of us and their support is vital to our economy.”
The words I found on The Champs Hotel website perhaps best characterise the general attitude on the island: “We remain strong in heart and mind as we intend to build our Hotel and Dominica stronger and better.” As for myself, I plan to rebuild our dream house using greener methods. Is there any other way?