Almost two months on from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the world’s news cycles have moved on. But in Barbuda, entirely evacuated, and in Dominica, where 90% of buildings were damaged, people are still fighting against the odds to rebuild.
Yesterday, I met with some of the 2,000 people who were evacuated to Antigua from Barbuda, leaving the island uninhabited for the first time in 300 years. They are still living in the shelters in the national stadium and teaching centres that I visited, and in truly difficult conditions. Today, I am seeing first-hand with the coastguard the damage inflicted on Barbuda, before travelling on to Dominica tomorrow to see the recovery.
I am also meeting Prime Minister Gaston Browne to discuss the crucial issue of what the international community can do to level the playing field. In his UN General Assembly speech, Browne made headlines by reminding the world of the fundamental injustice that vulnerable small island states “are the least of the polluters, but the largest of the casualties”.
Yet when disaster strikes, small island states find that the global trade, aid and economic rules of the game are still rigged against them. That leaves them unable to recover and vulnerable to predatory investors.
For its part, the UK must do more to help independent Caribbean countries like Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, and to make the rules of the global game fairer.
But when the UK’s Department for International Development recently announced its big plan for the region’s recovery, it consisted only of a “private sector task force” and “support and advice” on how to get better insurance. Not a penny of new funding for recovery, rebuilding, or future resilience, either in Dominica or Antigua & Barbuda. That is despite being eligible for aid under international rules.
This weekend, the UK also has an immediate chance to negotiate changes to the aid rules that would help vulnerable small island states impacted by sudden disaster like Antigua and Barbuda when the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee meets in Paris. The Conservatives promised in their manifesto to win changes to the aid rules and must now deliver, but are yet to publicly clarify what changes they want.
The fear is either that the Tories will only seek changes that divert aid away from the world’s poorest and most vulnerable and towards wealthier territories, or that they have already botched the negotiations and misjudged other countries’ positions.
Seeing the impact on people’s lives here in Antigua and Barbuda is a reminder that our international development policy cannot succeed unless we get to grips with the root causes of global climate change, inequality and poverty. To do that, we must set about making the world fairer, as well as less poor. That is something a Labour government is ready to step up and deliver.
Barbuda and Dominica are on the front line of global climate injustice. The world must not turn away.