Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland is urging the international community to keep devastated islands in the Caribbean high on its agenda as she heads to Antigua and Barbuda today.
“It has been two months since Hurricane Irma, one of the most catastrophic hurricanes on record left Barbuda and nearby islands in ruins. And on its heels Hurricane Maria fell with unbridled rage on Dominica, a nation still reeling from the impact of devastating Storm Erika that washed away 95 per cent of its GDP in 2015. Today the headlines have moved on, but the people of Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda are still waking every day to the stark, dark reality of the devastation that these natural disasters have inflicted,” the Secretary-General said.
She continued, “Loved ones are still missing, families are still mourning, people are still homeless and living without running water and electricity, and children are still traumatised. This tragedy is still unfolding. This is why I have decided to visit the region to discuss with leaders how the Commonwealth can continue its support.”
In the last two months the Secretary-General has been advocating for support for vulnerable Commonwealth countries affected by natural disasters. In addition to key interventions on the occasion of high-level international forums such as the United Nations General Assembly and the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Secretary-General has been looking within the Commonwealth for solutions to climate change and vulnerability challenges.
She said, “It is serendipitous that summits for our finance and law ministers occurred soon after Maria and Irma. What was evident at both meetings was the strong commitment to address the existential threat that climate change poses and to support the countries who are most vulnerable to its effects.
“Finance ministers examined how to free up access to funding for climate action – a challenge which the Commonwealth has responded with the opening of our Climate Finance Access Hub last year. We already have an expert in Antigua and Barbuda helping the government to create strong mitigation and adaption projects that will attract funding. We are working closely with Dominica to get an expert there as quickly as possible.”
Law ministers, she added, welcomed a package of Commonwealth initiatives to strengthen climate change and disaster response laws that will speed up recovery after disasters.
“This includes our new Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform, which has a treasure trove of online resources such as model laws, best practice, step by step reform guides and legislative drafting tools.”
During her visit the Secretary-General will explore how the Commonwealth can maximise and target its support to meet the specific needs of climate-vulnerable countries.
She will begin her mission with an independence day parade in Antigua and Barbuda as the country celebrates 36 years of self-governance. During the mission, she will visit areas and people affected by the recent disasters and meet leaders, including Prime Minister Gaston Browne, as well as other officials and representatives from aid agencies.
“This is very much a home coming for me. My father is Antiguan, and Dominica is the land of my birth. But it is not easy coming home to devastation and destruction. I am bracing myself for what I will see. But I know that the Commonwealth and Caribbean spirit of resilience is very much alive.
“I thank the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and the other organisations that have been working tirelessly to bring these countries to full recovery. I am confident that, with this and Commonwealth support, we can rebuild better and stronger.”