Special Vulnerabilities of the Caribbean

The world looked on in horror as many Caribbean territories were pummelled in rapid succession by fierce and powerful Category Five storms during the hurricane season of 2017. Hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed into our islands one after the other, flattening homes and public buildings, destroying crops and devastating the peaceful lives of millions of residents of this region. The UWI's Open Campus sites were not spared, in particular the Dominica site, where over 90% of the buildings were severely damaged. The resulting loss of life and infrastructural damage across the region created a humanitarian crisis.

It exposed the special vulnerabilities of the Caribbean and the need to strengthen its resilience. As we deal frontally with the challenges of global climate change, it is incumbent upon us to work with all major stakeholders—public and private—to explore options for building resilience in the region, including risk mitigation.

The UWI, cognisant of its commitment to be our neighbours' keeper, immediately began collaborating with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), as well as Heads of Government to mobilise its resources and expertise to provide support and relief to the affected territories.

The UWI's approach was two-pronged. The first 'rapid response' phase concentrated on providing emergency relief aid and experts to assist in the areas of greatest need as identified by the impacted states, such as infrastructure, housing, agriculture, tourism, and psychosocial counselling.

Special response teams visited Antigua, Barbuda and Dominica to assess the damage and formulate a relief strategy. The relief teams included members of staff with expertise in engineering, land management, sociology, psychology and social work, particularly those with training and expertise in recovery response after disasters.

The second phase, which focused on recovery and rehabilitation, concentrated on the mobilisation of expertise to assist in the restoration of the affected islands with priority placed, from The UWI's perspective, on the sectoral areas of education and healthcare.

The UWI and CDEMA also agreed to rally resources for disaster relief and construction within the Caribbean, through a newly established Caribbean Emergency Management Association (CEMA), intended to mobilise networks, friends and stakeholders, including private sector, civil society, Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), media and tertiary institutions specifically in North America, for supporting the disaster relief requirements in the Caribbean. A commitment was made that CEMA will be hosted in the American Foundation for The University of the West Indies (AFUWI) office in New York.