PETER WICKHAM: Two floods
OVER THE PAST week the people of this Caribbean region and those from Europe have been preoccupied by the human tragedy associated with floods.
Although the flood on this side of the Atlantic was an entirely natural phenomenon and the event on the other side of the human variety, both have equally demanded our attention.
In both instances there is a clear need for a regional response that is grounded in our appreciation of the extent to which we are our “brother’s keeper”.
Dominica is easily one of the most unspoilt islands and this natural beauty is an attribute its citizens jealously guard with good reason. Many of us are aware of the fact that Dominica’s infrastructure appears less extensive than that of many other islands; however, few appreciate the extent to which Dominica’s incredible geography complicates infrastructural development. This fact, more than anything else exacerbated the tragedy of last week’s flood which significantly damaged the island’s infrastructure and in particular it’s bridges and roads. In the latter regard, Dominica has just recently concluded an expensive upgrade of its road network connecting the Douglas-Charles Airport to Roseau which slashed the commute time and facilitated a significantly more comfortable journey. It was, therefore, heart-breaking to see the pictures of devastation there where several major sections of this road and its bridges were washed away, especially when one appreciates the challenges associated with this major development.
Infrastructure aside, the loss of human life will always be the main focus of concern in any disaster and in this regard Dominica has sadly lost too many of its sons and daughters this way in the past. Some among us still recall hurricane David’s impact in 1979, which left three-quarters of the population homeless and took the lives of 37 people, with thousands being injured. This death toll was thankfully a fraction of the body count associated with Dominica’s two previous hurricanes in 1806 and 1834 which claimed 131 and 200 lives respectively. While we are all thankful that the Erica’s death toll will not likely reach the level of David’s, the region still laments the loss of these brothers and sisters as we struggle to understand how a “simple storm” could generate this much destruction.
Thankfully the region has thus far responded in a way that suggests we understand the extent to which Dominica’s problem is as much our concern as theirs. Those with air-resources like Trinidad, Venezuela and Martinique have already responded with a focus on Petit Savanne which is virtually cut-off and one presumes that the remainder of us will also help when called upon. It is also commendable that Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has been communicating effectively with his people there and also with us around the region so we can know the details of the destruction there and how we can help.
On the other side of the Atlantic there has also been a flood and the impact has been equally tragic; however the flood of migrants is different to that which Dominica experienced largely because the European problem is entirely man-made. The European migrant crisis has been with them for some time; however in the past few weeks it is clear that for several reasons it has moved from a minor localised problem to a major regional crisis. The span and severity of this crisis appears to have been highlighted in two separate incidents, the first one being the fact that a 40 year old migrant from Sudan walked the length of the Chunnel Tunnel from Calais to Kent where he was arrested. The implication of this man’s arrival in the UK is akin to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour since it signals the extent to which Brittan is not an island, but an interconnected component of Europe which urgently needs to adopt a unified regional response to this crisis.
The more recent incident that speaks to the severity of this migrant crisis occurred in Berlin where the decomposing bodies of 50 migrants were found in a truck which was abandoned near the Austrian-Hungary border. This is of course days after the international media captured images of the Macedonian Police firing stun grenades against approximately 3,000 migrants near the Greek border. Various estimations suggest that as many as 3,000 migrants each day are fleeing war and economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa and heading for Europe. The Macedonian episode provides evidence of the scope of the problem while the Berlin tragedy helps us to understand the desperation of migrants which is clearly being exploited by people-smugglers whose humanity has all but disappeared.
Human tragedies like these often create an opening for us to demonstrate the type human kindness which is much too scarce in these times. There is also the opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of a regional response, which is too often overlooked on both sides of the Atlantic, but is easily the most appropriate response to this interconnected world of ours.
Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and director of the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).