According to a recent report on the effects of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas, published by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAO), the total cost of the devastating hurricane that struck the Caribbean island this past September amount to $3.4 billion, equivalent to a quarter of the country’s GDP.
assessment of Dorian’s effects, coordinated by the three multilateral bodies,
draws particular attention to the exacerbated direct physical damage, revenue
and income loss that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as The Bahamas
suffer from during and after an extreme weather event hits their territories.
But most importantly, the report sheds light on how an isolated weather event
such as Dorian, will affect the island’s long-term reconstruction, recovery and
the economy overall. When compared to other coastal locations across the world,
the devastating cost to the economy and human well-being of the Caribbean SIDS
is too hard to miss. But unfortunately, not enough attention is brought to the
particular vulnerability of the Caribbean to extreme weather events as a result
of climate change and rising global temperatures.
alone, the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) recorded 367 natural disasters
across the globe, including extreme weather events that affected nearly 96
million people at a total cost of $326 billion in economic loss worldwide. From
the 367 disasters recorded in 2017, 101 occurred in the Americas—24 and 28 of
these in the U.S. and the Caribbean respectively.
Dorian is just the latest example of how extreme weather events taking place
year after year will only become more frequent and stronger as a result of
climate change. Additionally, as noted by a recently released Global Americans
Working Group paper on the Caribbean’s extreme vulnerability to the climate crisis,
the economic costs and human loss as a consequence of inaction toward climate
change will only increase, placing an uneven and unfair burden on the
Caribbean, with recovery costs exceeding the size of their own economies.
added to the exposure to cumulative recovery costs, natural disasters take a
large toll on the Caribbean’s future economic growth and development
opportunities. Meaning that for SIDS that have “survived” extreme weather
events—such as Puerto Rico (Hurricane Maria and Irma), Haiti (Hurricane Matthew
and Irma), and more recently The Bahamas—it can take years or even decades to
recover from a single natural event, straining their already limited budgets to
primarily attend their affected communities, withdrawing resources from other
development projects or departments.
Caribbean islands also have significant amounts of international debt that
place them at a further disadvantage to act against climate change. As noted by
the Hurricane Dorian cost assessment report, this is of particular concern for
The Bahamas, a country not eligible to receive official development assistance
(ODA) and where government debt, for example, doubled from 32 percent of GDP in
2007 to 65 percent of GDP in 2014. For
Caribbean SIDS, even considering incorporating protective and adaptation to
climate change measures and programs in their yearly budgets is simply
impossible without the cooperation of the international community.
simple words, the Caribbean is the most vulnerable region to climate change in
the Western Hemisphere, and if significant steps are not taken to address
climate change today, we face a very real possibility of witnessing entire
Caribbean islands, and coastal communities in the U.S. and other nations,
eroding and even disappearing before our eyes.
It is a
fact that we can’t prevent natural disasters from happening, but we can avoid
the rippling effects of climate change and extreme weather events by placing
particular attention to and taking action in our own Hemisphere’s coastal
communities, starting with the Caribbean. The Caribbean region is a strategic
and economically viable starting point for state, civil and private actors to
mobilize against the trickle-down effects of climate change, and along the way
adopt lessons applicable and scalable to other coastal communities in the
Americas, so that in the long-term, we produce a more secure and prosperous
learn more about the Caribbean’s particular vulnerability to climate change and
how to take urgent and collective action, read the recommendations on this and
other pressing issues affecting the Americas outlined by the Global Americans’
High Level Working Group on inter-American Relations and Bipartisanship.