Making Dominica Hurricane Proof – Though Maria was the worst storm to ever strike Dominica, the country’s economy has been shaken several times over the past decade, absorbing major hurricanes and tropical storms in 2015, 2013, and 2010.
Hurricane Erika wiped out an estimated 90 percent of Dominica’s GDP in 2015. By comparison, the World Trade Organization estimates that Hurricane Maria cost Dominica just over two years’ worth of economic output. Financial experts anticipate it will be roughly three more years before Dominica can return to its pre-hurricane state.
Five days after the storm hit, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit addressed the United Nations General Assembly.
“I come to you straight from the front line of the war on climate change,” Skerrit said in his address. “In the past, we would prepare for one heavy storm a year. Now, thousands of storms form on a breeze in the mid-Atlantic and line up to pound us with maximum force and fury.”
Skerrit’s impassioned speech was a plea for the funds to make Dominica into the world’s first fully climate resilient nation. It requires not replacing what was lost, but building for a future where climate change all but guarantees a storm of Maria’s scale will strike again.
Dominica is striving to construct not only hurricane-proof buildings but also a diverse economy, including a tourism sector that attracts more high-end spenders and an agricultural system that grows a variety of fruits and vegetables eaten locally, rather than primarily exporting bananas.
The island also needs to appear pristine. While Dominica’s economy has grown from selling agricultural goods and timber, the island itself is the product it sells to the world. In an area only slightly larger than Austin, Texas, Dominica contains 365 rivers, enough to swim in a new one every day for a year, locals like to point out.
There are active volcanoes, lush rainforests, stunning coral reefs, and black sand beaches. On travel websites, it’s billed as the Nature Island, a destination for the athletic adventurer or the affluent yogi in search of retreat.
“The challenges are not just related to infrastructure. Resilience in our view is how vulnerable you are in the first place,” says Pepe Bardouille, CEO of the government’s Climate Resilience Execution Agency of Dominica (CREAD).
Amid new policies and regulations, Bardouille says there’s a new collective consciousness now preparing for future hurricanes like Maria.
“It’s incumbent on every citizen to know what they need to do for themselves,” she says. “Making decisions about what they’re building, whether they’re getting insurance, those are individual decisions—not things a government can do.”
CREAD was established in early 2018 to ensure that every sector building back after Maria was keeping climate resilience in mind. Uniform building codes, varied agricultural products, new geothermal energy plants, improved healthcare facilities, reliable transportation infrastructure on land and at sea—it’s CREAD’s job to figure out how to hurricane-proof everything as much as possible.
“How to keep a society and economy in a small country with a limited tax base and a huge number of climactic challenges running on a shoestring. Those are the challenges,” Bardouille says.
One component of Dominica’s plan to become climate resilient involves banning plastic. The reasoning for the ban boils down to infrastructure. Dominica’s waste collection system, run by the government-created, privately run Dominica Waste Management Corporation, collects trash that goes into a single, already-stuffed landfill.
But what if residents could instead individually compost their single-use items in the hot, humid conditions of the Caribbean? Might they lessen, or avoid altogether, the need for recycling machines that may not hold up during the next version of Hurricane Maria? Continue reading