MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Caribbean nations need faster access to capital to invest in protection against the creeping effects of climate change, as many struggle to recover from the devastating blow of Hurricane Irma, said the president of the Caribbean Development Bank.
The region will push at upcoming U.N. climate talks for richer countries to play a bigger role in helping the Caribbean bolster its defenses as rising sea levels and violent storms threaten island states, William Warren Smith told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
“We believe there’s a responsibility of the international community generally to address this problem. We feel that small, vulnerable states like ours are in great need of the resources being transferred to us so we can address the problem that we face, much of which is not our doing,” said Smith.
Hurricanes may be occasional events, but sea level rise is “almost continuous”, he added.
Hurricane Irma killed more than 60 people on its rampage through the Caribbean and the southeastern United States, with 43 of those deaths in the Caribbean, where homes were destroyed and basic services devastated.
Scientists have said warmer air and water resulting from climate change may have contributed to the severity of Irma and Hurricane Harvey, which slammed into Texas on Aug. 25.
The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank has made emergency grants and loans to member countries to help cover immediate costs in the wake of Irma.
The storm has also triggered payouts of almost $30 million from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF SPC) so far.
British overseas territory the Turks and Caicos Islands will receive about $13.6 million from the insurance scheme, while Anguilla will get some $6.5 million. Nearly $6.8 million will be funneled to Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis will receive $2.3 million, according to the CCRIF.
Operated and owned by Caribbean countries, the CCRIF allows island nations to pool their premiums in a disaster fund. The first multi-country insurance scheme of its kind, it was launched by the World Bank in 2007 after Hurricane Ivan inflicted billions of dollars in losses on the region in 2004.
“The CCRIF right now is quite well-resourced but as climate change worsens, I imagine there will be an ongoing assessment of their requirements, because risks are increasing and their ability to respond has to increase accordingly,” said Smith.
With coastal erosion gnawing at islands and threatening the “sun, sand and sea” tourism that sustains many, Caribbean states must protect themselves from rising seas and storms with methods like reef rehabilitation, hefty sea defenses of boulders, and mangroves that help protect against storm surges, Smith said.
“We need to put in place the kind of infrastructure that makes us more resilient,” he said.
But Caribbean countries are struggling to pay for such schemes. International financing mechanisms - including the $10 billion Green Climate Fund, set up to help developing countries tackle climate change - are slow to release much-needed capital, and should reform their processes to speed up access, he added.
“It takes too long for these resources to move, given the urgency of the need,” he said.
Niels Holm-Nielsen, the World Bank’s global lead for disaster risk management and resilience, said countries should also strengthen and streamline their own regulations and institutions to ensure investment is effective. Insurance alone will never cover the cost of massive disasters, he added.
“It’s not only a question of throwing more money in,” he said. “A lot of what we’ve seen in the Caribbean and in other parts of the world is the result of decades of development that has not taken into account the natural environment.”
”Over decades you can change a lot of things with relatively little money upfront,” he added.
Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate