Caribbean prepares for storm season; Dominica re-engineers

Bert Wilkinson | 5/23/2019, 10:41 a.m.
The commencement of the 2019 hurricane season is less than two weeks away with official predictions that it could be ...
Devastation in Dominica after Hurricane Maria CNN photo

The commencement of the 2019 hurricane season is less than two weeks away with official predictions that it could be a rough one as usual but some Caribbean Community nations, which endure a battering each year, are not so nervous anymore because of major engineering and other changes at the political level.

Island nations like Dominica and others which were flattened by hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017 say they have not only learned valuable lessons from two of the most powerful storms on record but are tired of having to cough up hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild the same facilities each year.

So leaders in the 15-nation Caribbean Community embarked on what they call an ambitious climate resilience program aimed at revamping the way the infrastructure is engineered to such an extent that much of it would be able to withstand or survive incoming storms.

The leaders have held up the small Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica as the best and most advanced of their efforts to turn the region into a resilient one as the Caribbean is flush in the path of storms coming off the West African coast. The island will be held up as the world’s first climate resilient nation.

The website Caribbean News Now reported in the past week that the island has made tremendous progress with key aspects of the plan including the construction of at least 5,000 new housing units built with new technology that should withstand the power and wrath of incoming storms.

Additionally, lifeline pieces of equipment like fiber optic cables are now being run underground so they could survive storms or could easily be repaired. Approaches as to how mobile cellphone towers and electricity cables and installations are constructed and installed is being reviewed as these are the first to go when storms come ashore.

Chris Timmins, the project director for a Montreal, Canada-based group working with the Dominican government says the island should fare better going forward because of the structural and other changes to the infrastructure.

“All new buildings are constructed from a reinforced concrete technology, equipped with hurricane-proof windows and underground services. The homes are designed and built to the European upper middle-income standard with all two- and three-bedroom homes, two fully fitted bathrooms and a fully fitted kitchen along with generously sized rooms. It is our intent that to provide buildings that are in line with the government’s objective of providing a climate resilient country, we are constantly reviewing designs and ideas to ensure that all buildings meet optional specifications,” Timmins said.

Prime Minister Roosvelt Skerrit says that at least 20,000 homes were flattened or badly damaged by Hurricane Maria and there was some destruction when Irma called on the island a few weeks later.

He said authorities are serious about not having to spend millions each year to replace what was already constructed. Because of this, engineers are paying close attention to road sloping to ensure proper drainage to mitigate flooding and the island’s relatively small rivers are being dredged to improve storage capacity from water run off.

In the aftermath of the storms, Caribbean governments in collaboration with the United Nations had raised more than $2 billion in cash, pledges and loans to assist with the rebuilding efforts. In January, the European Union in conjunction with the World Bank provided grant aid worth Euros 30.7 million to assist with disaster risk management.