Did Dominica Build Back Better?

The night of September 18, 2017, forever altered the development trajectory of the Commonwealth of Dominica. Hurricane Maria’s 160 mph winds decimated the island, stripping vegetation, flattening homes, and crippling infrastructure. The devastation was catastrophic: 31 lives lost, thousands homeless, and damages amounting to USD $1.3 billion dollars – over twice the nation’s GDP. Dominica’s government, under Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, vowed to rebuild as the world’s first climate-resilient nation, creating the Climate Resilience Execution Agency for Dominica (CREAD) to lead this ambitious mission. This documentary looks at the first few days of having been on the ground after Maria hit and now – seven years later – to find stories of resilience amidst ongoing challenges.

“Just Transition” Climate Change considerations within CARICOM

The concept of a just transition originated with the United States labour movement of the Nineteen-Seventies and broadened as labour organisations forged alliances with environmental justice groups starting in the 1990s. 

Initially, the concept emerged in response to increased regulation of industries deemed heavy polluters. The literal meaning of the words are central to a full appreciation of the concept.  

A “transition” refers to the process/period of changing from one state/condition to another. It is the definition of “just” that requires clarification. 

“Just”, in this context, is the adjective referring to “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair (Righteous)” or “being what is merited (Deserved)” or “Legally correct (Lawful).”  The word “just” is not intended to be used as the adverb meaning “only” or “simply.”

The Caribbean Community is no stranger to transitions, especially those that have been decidedly unjust. These SIDS that include the mainland territories of Belize, Guyana and Suriname have had to make political transitions from colonialism to independence, and economic transitions from plantations to private farms and Industrialisation by Invitation. The more recent transition is environmentally driven around issues of climate change.  The concept of a just transition with respect to climate change implies that all those citizens disadvantaged by adaptation and mitigation actions will be buffered through socio-economic programmes that protect livelihoods.   

Just transition has been described as fostering healthy renewable economies and communities whilst moving away from fossil fuel dependence and extractive industries.

COVID in the Caribbean

CIJN writers fanned out across the region–Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, British Virgin Islands,– to show how people in Caribbean nations were battling the coronavirus, fighting for their lives and economic survival.

No borders can repel COVID-19. When 52-year-old Ratna Baboolall left her home in Queens, N.Y. for a trip to her native Guyana, she unknowingly carried the virus to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where she was in transit to her village 15 minutes from Georgetown, the Guyanese capital. Before she died of the virus, she had sickened at least eight relatives, including her 59-year-old husband Ramnauth Baboolall, her two sons, two sisters, one niece, her son-in-law and one of her granddaughters. CIJN reporters tell the story of Guyana’s Patient Zero. In separate reports, they detail how, thanks to the virus, the people of Guyana have had to postpone their hopes that newfound oil riches would improve their standard of living and help Guyana shed its status as one of the poorest countries in South America. Many businesses, which had hoped to boom, are now shuttered temporarily or for good.

Caribbean people are known for their resilience and creativity. Those two traits are on display throughout the islands. If your island is heavily dependent on people from around the world getting on planes to vacation in your tropical paradise, what are your options when airplane traffic has ground to a halt. If you’re Bajan Prime Minister Mia Mottley, you develop a plan to invite tele-commuters, or work-at-home employees, to work from Barbados for the next year. Her pitch: why work in the United States, Europe and Latin America when you can work in the tropical breezes in the birthplace of Rihanna.

The people of the British Virgin Islands owe their survival to their own resilience. As they battle encroachment of the coronavirus, they are also preparing for the hurricane season–with the scars of recent deadly hurricanes fresh in their memories. Their big dilemma: how to practice social distancing if you are stuck in a hurricane shelter with hundreds of huddled hurricane victims.

In the BVI, Filipino expatriate workers have had to rely on bayanihan, their national spirit of kindness, work and cooperation to make the best of job losses and their diminishing options.