INTERVIEW-Wealthy nations have a responsibility to help rebuild storm-hit Barbuda: PM

by Sebastien Malo | @SebastienMalo | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 20 November 2017 22:51 GMT

Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, speaks during an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation in New York, USA November 20, 2017. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Sebastien Malo

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"We are the injured party, we're not the ones who are emitting these greenhouse gases"

By Sebastien Malo

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rich nations responsible for climate change need to help rebuild the Caribbean island of Barbuda where living conditions remain "primitive" more than two months after Hurricane Irma, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said on Monday.

Ahead of a United Nations summit where countries will be invited to pledge donations to Caribbean nations ravaged by storms, Browne said he hoped at least half of the estimated $220 million needed to rebuild Barbuda could be raised.

"You have people who are living there notwithstanding the fact that you don't have basic services. They're living there under very primitive conditions," Browne said in an interview.

"We are the injured party, we're not the ones who are emitting these greenhouse gases into the earth's atmosphere," he said at a press conference ahead of the interview.

Irma, packing 185 mph (295 kph) winds, ravaged a series of small islands in the northeast Caribbean in early September, with climate scientists saying warmer air and water resulting from climate change may have added to the storm's severity.

The dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, with a population of 100,000, was especially hard hit.

The northernmost island, Barbuda, normally home to about 1,800 people, was "decimated" and temporarily uninhabitable, with 95 percent of all dwellings leveled, Browne said.

So far, promised donations to Antigua and Barbuda of some $25 million represent about 10 percent of funds needed to rebound, said Browne. Pledges have come from Britain, the United Arab Emirates, India, and China among others.

"There's no water, no electricity, and there's no functioning police station or ... fire station," said Browne.

"We are building a new Codrington," he added, referring to Barbuda's main town before the storm which will be rebuilt further inland to prevent flooding.

Browne said he was deeply saddened after surveying Irma's damage by helicopter but he has since been consumed by the daunting task of ensuring Barbuda recovers despite estimated costs equal to the country's entire governmental revenue.

CULPRITS AND VICTIMS

Browne said he hoped rich countries pledge half of what is needed at Tuesday's summit, which is held by CARICOM, the Caribbean's largest cooperation group, and the United Nations.

Countries that have said they would attend Tuesday's donors summit include the United States, Canada, China, Brazil and several European Union nations, said Browne.

The gathering will also seek to raise money for victims of Hurricane Maria, with winds near 165 mph (270 kph) that destroyed broad swathes of homes and infrastructure on the nearby island of Dominica only weeks after Irma.

Small island nations, including Antigua and Barbuda, have increased pressure for top fossil-fuel consumers whose greenhouse gas emissions drive climate change to help them cope with the devastation wrought by Irma and other recent storms.

Browne said the entire Caribbean produces less than 0.1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

"It means, therefore, that the developed countries ... have an obligation to assist because we are suffering disproportionately from the effects of climate change," said Browne who has been prime minister since 2014.

He said he hoped plans to turn Barbuda into a laboratory of resilience to extreme weather events - with raised homes capable of sustaining winds of 220 mph (355 kph) and renewable energy farms - would represent a selling point to donors.

"We can show that you can sustain a totally green island," he said.

"But the exploitation of these opportunities will be based on our capacity to raise the necessary resources."

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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