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Rose-Ann Smith, PhD.
Rose-Ann Smith, PhD.
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By *Dr. Rose-Ann Smith

As a Vincentian living in Jamaica, it took me some time to write this. I spent the past few days reflecting on Hurricane Beryl. Initially, I was overwhelmed with fear for my family members in St. Vincent, and then for myself and my family as the hurricane approached us here in Jamaica. After the storm passed, I reflected on the devastating impacts on the Grenadine islands of St. Vincent and Grenada as well as the southern parishes of Jamaica, which were shared through footage and videos on social media. This reflection brought deep sadness and a heavy heart, which soon turned into anger. Climate injustice is unfolding before us, yet at the close of COP28, there is scant evidence of our efforts yielding significant change.

COP28 was described as a significant milestone, marking the conclusion of the first global stocktake of efforts under the Paris Agreement to address climate change. So, what have we learned? Progress has been disappointingly slow across all areas of climate action. At the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) debate in 2015, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, remarked, “The posturing and recalcitrance of some major emitters of global warming gases suggested that the upcoming Climate Conference in Paris, or COP21, might turn out to be yet another empty diplomatic dance that prioritised process over progress” (UNGA, 2015). Now, at COP28, we are concluding that progress has been slow? This was evident to many of us in the Caribbean, who are bearing the brunt of climate change.

It is time to move from words to actions. We need to see tangible changes beyond paperwork, signed agreements, and diplomatic speeches because we are experiencing the consequences every day. I am exhausted — exhausted from discussing climate justice and the ongoing injustices. I am tired of repeating what the academic community has been saying at various forums, dressed in our formal attire. I am weary of seeing photos on LinkedIn celebrating attendance at events and “rich discussions”.  “I am pleased to announce that I attended this or that…” I am tired of writing and reading journal articles addressing critical issues because beyond the accolades, where are we? Our people are suffering!

Currently, many residents of Union Island, Mayreau, and Canouan have been displaced or will be in the coming days. I am certain that Carriacou is experiencing similar challenges as we await official assessments and reports. Much like the impact of Irma on Barbuda, some of these islands have become uninhabitable. I have felt the pain and desperation of those affected as they pleaded for help, uncertain if it will come. The death toll is slowly rising, and for those who remain, they have lost everything except their lives.

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Let us take a moment of silence, not only for the deceased but also for those who have been devastated yet remain among the living. As you reflect on their plight, consider your own situation. For many of us, the effects of Hurricane Beryl were limited to the loss of electricity, cable, internet, and water, and we complained daily about the unbearable heat and the persistent mosquitoes that seem intent on lifting us up like Beryl’s winds after they suck us dry. Now, think about those who have truly been affected.

No roof, no house, no HOME!

No food!

No electricity or water!

No form of communication

No toilets or toiletries!

Nothing!

After years of investing and building—some without mortgages and others with them—their entire lives were upheaved in a single day. Many lack peril insurance, savings, or even jobs, with some being retirees. Now, they depend on others (you, me, and the international community) to support them and help them rebuild. They are also burdened with concerns they should not have to face, such as fairness in resource distribution and allocation. They worry whether their political affiliations will affect their aid, and issues of poor governance are already emerging.

Additionally, fear looms as the hurricane season is still young. More hurricanes of similar magnitude and intensity are expected, and the vulnerability of these islands and their people is at its peak. Even intense rain alone can cause significant damage. They cannot endure another hurricane. This is our reality and the climate injustice we are confronting.

As I continue to read, listen, and prepare to raise my voice once again about the lessons learned and reiterate key points I’ve shared in previous years, I urge readers and the local, regional, and international community to adopt a resolute stance in addressing climate change. Let’s move beyond photo opportunities with various PMs or officials and focus on our approach to COP29. If I attend, it will be with placards in hand. However, it would be remiss of me to conclude this article without highlighting a few crucial lessons that I hope we will address in our various spaces:

  1. The first Sustainable Development Goal aims to eradicate poverty. Climate disasters are pushing already impoverished communities deeper into poverty and adding more communities to the list. How are we measuring progress in poverty eradication, and at what scale? It’s crucial to consider the varying perspectives of wealth distribution, equity, and equality. Poverty not only fosters dependency but also silences voices, as some people worry that their stance on various issues may impact the assistance they receive.
  • Transformative recovery emphasises building back better. Yet, in almost every instance, we are merely returning to normalcy. Hurricane Beryl has given us an opportunity to enhance resilience against hurricane impacts. Let’s move beyond rhetoric in media interviews and actualise these commitments. Failing to do so will incur greater long-term costs, prolonging recovery indefinitely. Post-disaster damage assessments should accurately estimate the costs of transformative rebuilding efforts and hold global emitters accountable.
  • There’s an urgent need for a systematic approach to address the psychosocial impacts of disasters, which are often overlooked. Preliminary research indicates significant and lasting effects such as trauma, grief, and mental illness. Disasters can shatter lives, and while we ask affected individuals to rebuild, adequate support systems are lacking. It’s time to prioritise resources and support for these enduring challenges.
  • Effective disaster communication, especially in the aftermath, requires strengthening. This goes beyond providing battery-operated radios for listeners or ham radios for disaster offices and community groups. Post-Beryl, many distressing posts surfaced about missing loved ones. Improving search and rescue operations demands more efficient ways to account for individuals. I have ideas on enhancing this process for those interested in collaborating.
  • Timely research is crucial! Disaster response teams are essential, but we must also facilitate access for researchers to gather real-time information. While journalists capture valuable insights from affected communities, critical questions remain unanswered. Bridging the gap between journalistic inquiry and research can yield essential data to inform decision-making post-disaster.

Dr. Rose-Ann Smith is a Vincentian lecturer in disaster management at the Department of Geography and Geology at University of the West Indies, Mona campus, Jamaica. She also works as a disaster risk management and climate change consultant and is the author of the children’s book “The Day I Became a Hurricane”.

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

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2 Comments

  1. nancysauldemers says:

    Dr. Smith hit the nail on the head, particularly with reference to: the “urgent need for a systematic approach to address the psychosocial impacts of disasters” and the fact that “Effective disaster communication, especially in the aftermath, requires strengthening.” Let us hope that leadership at NEMO and elsewhere within SVG ‘s government have read and carefully considered the contents of this article. There is always room for improvement, made possible with continuous learning.

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