The first anniversary of Hurricane Irma passed with little fanfare. Not that there should be any, but one would expect that there would be some sort of acknowledgement of the event, and a detailed accounting of the rebuilding efforts to date.
It would take just one visit to our sister isle to see that Barbuda has a long way to go. Put simply, Barbudans are still living in the storm.
With one year under our collective belts we must ask ourselves if we are happy with all that has been done.
This is not a question for those in authority, but one for the human collective known as Antiguans and Barbudans.
Have we done enough and have we ensured that those who have been given the responsibility of rebuilding on our behalf done enough? We ask these questions because we feel that Barbuda suffers from being out of sight, and out of mind.
Many people will probably tune out at this point and flip the page citing an overload of Barbuda coverage and a dislike for the distasteful exchanges between the two sides in this family war.
But as we put Barbuda out of our minds, consider this: what would have been the response if Irma had trampled a path of devastation across a community in Antigua? God forbid, but what if Gray’s Farm had been flattened or Ovals or Bolans or Falmouth? Would we be able to drive through those communities every day and put the people’s plight out of our minds? We think not.
It is through this lens that we should view Barbuda. There is a lot of talk about a unitary state and ‘we are one’ but actions speak louder than words. Would people in Antigua accept that after one year, their power remains unavailable? Right now, it costs a Barbuda family an average of $170 per week to keep a generator (donated by Samaritan’s Purse) running just so they could have electricity. Most of Barbuda is still without electricity, while some have water.
Would people in Antigua live in an environment that is littered with debris, a year after a storm? Would we allow our visitors and citizens to drive through piles of rubbish while living with the risk that another storm will make landfall and turn garbage into deadly missiles?
Right now, there is a huge temporary dumpsite in Barbuda which residents fear could prove detrimental to them in the event of a storm
On that fateful night, one year and one day ago, Antigua was spared while our brothers and sisters in Barbuda felt the brunt of an angry Irma. The level of destruction left in her wake was unimaginable. Without communication in the aftermath, we feared the worst and when we eventually saw the devastation, our worst fears materialised. Beyond the material destruction of homes and infrastructure, Irma’s 180 miles per hour winds also took the precious life of two-year-old Carl Francis Jr. Of course, in the immediate aftermath, the spotlight shone bright on Barbuda. And Antigua and the world expressed horror and pledged to assist with the rebuilding efforts. All was made worse when the entire population was ordered evacuated when Hurricane Jose threatened.
Today, Barbuda plods along, lurching from one political fight to another. The island and its residents are still far from returning to normalcy and we must all question ourselves as to whether we have done enough. Would Hodges Bay or Crosbies resemble Barbuda today if those communities had been flattened by Irma? Unlikely.
We understand the challenges and the enormity of the rebuilding efforts. Barbuda is not physically attached to Antigua so equipment and supplies are not as easily available, so the rebuilding is a far more formidable task. We get all of that, but if we are truly devoted to the concept of a unitary state and all this talk of ‘oneness’ then we must also be honest in our assessment of the rebuilding efforts when compared to what would have obtained in Antigua under similar circumstances. (There is no need to argue that there can be no similar circumstances.)
While Irma has been retired from the list of names to be used for storms, never to be heard from again, her legacy continues and we will call her name for generations to come and there will always be the question as to whether we did enough?
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