EDITORIAL: Only a few Barbudans

The deadline in the third notice of eviction came and went. A few Barbudans left but more stayed at the shelter established at the National Technical Training Centre (NTTC) by the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS).

The question which is like a giant elephant in the room is: why are Barbudans still being housed in shelters nearly one year after Hurricane Irma trampled across our sister Isle?

The Barbudans say: they have nowhere to go; they are stranded in Antigua because, for one reason or another, they have no home to which they can return.  Some say that they have been unable to get their homes fixed while others say they lived in rental properties which are  no longer available.  Then there are those that claim that the environment in Barbuda is not suitable for a return – no proper health care, no proper education facilities, banking, etc.

On the other hand, the officials at NODS and within the government say that the situation is simply one of ‘freeloading’; meaning that the last remaining Barbudans in the shelters can move but have decided to stay because the government is picking up the tab.  NODS Director Philmore Mullin, while speaking about the situation at the NTTC, stated that the school at NTTC needs to go back to normal operations. He said, “We cannot continue sheltering persons a year after [Hurricane Irma],” adding, “For you to tell me you’re working and you cannot find a house is simply not true. There are people living in the shelter who are working and are just not looking for housing.”   Blunt and to the point. 

One thing is for sure, we cannot continue sheltering persons in perpetuity. One of the keys to community recovery is said to be the quickest return to normal life. One year after a disaster cannot be classified as quick by any definition. We can understand both sides of the argument, however at some point, this impasse must come to an end.

Which leads us to a question that will not be popular with the Barbudans but we will ask anyway. What is there still to be done to facilitate your return or permanent relocation?  

Many will not want to have that question posed but it is fair.

All residents of Barbuda were evacuated after Irma and just before Jose was predicted to pass; and he was followed not long after by Maria. There has been a lot of arguments about whether there was a need to make the evacuation mandatory but these arguments only have strength in hindsight. At the time, the threat was real and had nothing been done and Jose/Maria imitated Irma, then there would have been hell to pay and all fingers would have been pointed towards the central government.

That said, let’s look at the alternative and see if we can find a solution to the present situation. What would have happened if there was no mandatory evacuation? What would be different today? Very likely the shelters would have been established in Barbuda and there would have been only voluntary relocation to Antigua. Those who would have chosen to leave would have done so on their dime while the government’s resources would have been focused on the recovery and rebuilding efforts.  

With that in mind, consider all the stories that you have heard from the Barbuda shelter holdouts. If the government had not evacuated them, and essentially made them wards of the state, what would they have done to survive?  Would they have travelled to Antigua and made demands to be housed? We think that is unlikely. So why not do now what they would have done then?

We realise that this is a simplistic analysis of a complex situation but sometimes, if you remove the complexity (and politics) from a situation, you will find that solutions come much easier. At the same time, this is not meant to be an insensitive response to the plight of the Barbudans who still suffer one year after Hurricane Irma. Rather, what we are attempting to do is stimulate discussions so that we can find a solution to a situation that cannot persist into forever.

The Barbudans are our brothers and sisters and we must do all that we can to help them and us return to a normal life, however, that also requires that the Barbudans possess a desire to return to the life before Irma. If that is not the case then they need to plot a path towards a new life and communicate their plans to their hosts so that the necessary support mechanisms can be put into place. Once that is done, we will be well on our way

towards normalcy and

away from conflict and uncertainty.

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