Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hurricane Damage: Can the Caribbean Economies Keep Bouncing Back

Everyone knows that the Caribbean, or most of the Caribbean islands, lies in the path of hurricanes. Over the years, some islands more than others have taken a battering from the powerful winds and heavy rains. Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, Cayman Islands, St. Vincent and The Bahamas are some the islands that get hit most often.

In recent times Cuba has taken a beating from a number of hurricanes and tropical storms. In 2005, Cuba washit by Hurricane Dennis; in 2008 so far the island has felt the effects of Hurricane Gustav and Ike. While early reports claim that the impact of Gustav will have minor economic impact, reports indicate that there was major damage “to homes, schools and medical facilities…”

Haiti’s already battered economy and suffering population have been made worse off by the forces of hurricanes. Twenty persons were reportedly killed in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as a result of Gustav. With the passage of Hurricanes Hanna and Ike, and a number of storms, the death toll in Haiti has surpassed 320. All of these deaths occurred within a month. When taken into consideration that the hurricane season does not end until November, the idea of more disasters is a real possibility.

Jamaica has had her fair share of hurricanes and tropical storms – usually leaving millions in damage. Since the start of the 2008 hurricane season Jamaica has already felt the economic, not to mention social and environmental impact of one major event, Tropical Storm, Gustav. The human toll from Gustav was listed as 11 dead and 1,000 left homeless. The damage to the island’s road network has been devastating and repairs are currently estimated to be around J$3 billion. Minister of Transport and Works, Mike Henry, pointed out during the week of September 1 that the full extent of damage to the roads and bridgework is still not known.

Each time there is a hurricane, the island’s major foreign exchange earners get a beating. Jamaica’s agriculture was just getting back on solid footing after Hurricane Dean in 2007 and Hurricane Ivan in 2004 when Tropical Storm Gustav struck. The widespread flooding that occurred, negatively affected banana plantations that were almost wiped out by Hurricane Dean. The region’s tourism industry normally takes a licking as well – especially when roads are destroyed and utilities are down.

With each succeeding hurricane season seemingly worse than the one before, one is left to wonder what is causing it. Some persons believe that manmade pollution is partially responsible. In islands such as Haiti and Jamaica where flooding is the main source of destruction and loss of life, environmental degradation is partly responsible for the devastation.

Can Haiti ever get back on her feet after being plundered by dishonest politicians, political warfare, HIV /AIDS and continuous onslaughts from the winds of nature? The already poorly built roads and poorly maintained bridges in Jamaica can only take so much more. In both islands entire communities are cut off from each other and have little access to food and shelter. Sadly in many of the islands the devastation is mostly affecting the poor and this begs the question: Why? The economic cost of hurricanes in the islands during a bad season runs into millions of dollars. With the almost annual destruction and loss of life, one wonders if the Caribbean will always be able to recover from hurricanes.

- Jessica McCurdy Crooks