UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20, CMC –The Secretary General of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping, Irwin LaRocque, Monday said hurricanes had now become “game changers” for the Caribbean and urged the international community to give generously to the region following the devastation by two hurricanes in September.
Addressing the technical consultations ahead of Tuesday’s CARICOM-UN High Level Pledging Conference here, LaRocque said there was also a need to re-think the policies regarding concessional development financing and Official Development Assistance (ODA).
He told the technical meeting that the objective of this conference is two-fold.
“It is to mobilise support and commitment of pledges to help rebuild the countries ravaged by the recent hurricanes and importantly, to assist the region to build resilience, given its inherent vulnerabilities.”
He said with the support of development partners, there is an opportunity for the CARICOM countries, affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, to become the first climate resilient countries in the world.
“With your help we intend to build smarter and better. We are doing so, in the full knowledge that we are into a new era. Hurricanes Irma and Maria were game changers. Two category five hurricanes in two weeks and one, Maria, going from a category 1 to a category 5 in less than 36 hours.”
LaRocque described the two hurricanes that swept through the Lesser Antilles in September causing widespread death and destruction in countries such as Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, the Bahamas, as well as the British Virgin Islands and St. Kitts-Nevis as “unprecedented.
“The occurrence of successive category 5 hurricanes signals a dangerous change in the intensity and frequency of these climate change-related events, and heralds the advent of a new normal. The region must therefore adapt to this reality. Time is not on our side. The next hurricane season is seven months away.”
He said that the climatic events of September have occurred with a global temperature rise of about one degree Centigrade above pre-industrial levels and warned “if the current rate of emissions of greenhouse gases continues, the world could end up three or four degrees warmer.
“Two years ago, we agreed at COP 21 in Paris to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2° C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° C.
1.5 is critical to Small Island and low-lying coastal Developing States (SIDS) which are highly vulnerable to climatic hazards.
“Since Paris, Caribbean scientists have carried out studies to explore the consequences of both a 1.5 and 2.0 degree Centigrade warmer world,” LaRocque said, adding “they have found that given the current trend, the 1.5 target will occur within the next decade, much sooner than previously anticipated.
“With 1.5, the scientists are predicting generally harsher climatic conditions for our region. We must prepare for the next catastrophic hurricane, flood or drought. We must therefore be climate resilient in time for the next event.”
The CARICOM Secretary General said that the immediate and urgent need is to rebuild those countries that have suffered catastrophic damage from the two hurricanes.
“We cannot lose sight of the thousands who are homeless, jobless and simply surviving on relief for two months and counting. Rebuilding their lives is a priority,” he said, adding that the damage and recovery needs-assessments…point to extremely high economic, infrastructure and livelihood impacts of the two hurricanes across the affected countries”.
LaRocque said that Caribbean governments and its Institutions have stood up to be counted in assisting the affected states and expressed gratitude to the international community for rendering tremendous support.
He said the region has been taking steps to embed resilience in its planning and that the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), has designed the Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) Strategy 2014-2024, to continue its role as the Caribbean’s platform for achieving risk resilience.
The strategy embraces key sectors such as agriculture, tourism, health, education, finance, and physical and environmental planning. Additionally, it places increased focus on harmonizing disaster risk reduction and climate change considerations.
LaRocque said that it is obvious that given the new normal, much more needs to be done.
“We come together over the next two days to seek your assistance to rebuild, and to enhance our resilience to adapt to the effects of the inevitable climatic events in the longer term. That task will involve national governments, regional organizations, international development partners, private sector, and civil society.
“It requires significant investment to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to prepare for the impact of such events. The high levels of reconstruction will require a major injection of financing which we are unable to generate. We cannot do it alone.”
He said that most of our countries are categorized as middle- to high-income and are largely ineligible for concessional development financing and Official Development Assistance (ODA), due to the use of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita as a principal criterion.
“The increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters will exacerbate already high debt levels across the region, which is due in large measure to exogenous shocks including severe climatic events.
“There is need for new thinking, leading to changes in the criteria for determining access to concessionary resources, and to end the use of the dominant criterion of GDP per capita to measure development. As applied to small island developing states (SIDS), this must be changed as a matter of urgency to include the concept of vulnerability.”
LaRocque said what is also needed is the facility to access financing readily, especially by small and capacity-constrained countries. He said innovative financing mechanisms must also be found to enable countries to cope with external shocks of such magnitude.
“We find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances which therefore require extraordinary solutions,” he said, telling the delegates the meeting here is “devoted to putting before you the situation in the affected countries, identifying the challenges, exploring solutions and the possible mechanisms to resolve them urgently”.
He said the key takeaways from Monday’s session will inform the pledging conference on Tuesday.