Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque, Friday said 2017 will be remembered for the various events that had a lasting impact on the 15-member regional integration grouping, none more so that the damage caused by the hurricanes that swept through the Lesser Antilles.
In a Christmas message LaRocque said that the storms, which affected six of the member states as well as other Caribbean neighbours “will cast a long shadow over our Community for some time yet”.
Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, St Kitts-Nevis, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands as well as the Turks and Caicos Islands were affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria that left a trail of death and destruction estimated at billions of dollars.
LaRocque said that the heavy toll of lives, property and infrastructure had an effect wider than the affected countries.
“Our community has bonded together, as its governments, people and institutions render yeoman support to the stricken countries. The international community has been at our side in the relief undertaking in a highly appreciated show of solidarity.”
He said the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, (CDEMA) “performed magnificently as it coordinated the relief efforts and helped to set the stage for recovery” and that the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) was also prompt in meeting its commitments to the affected countries with the appropriate policies.
“The climatic events that we have been enduring, whether floods, droughts or storms have become our new normal. We are living climate change,” LaRocque said, noting that the recovery and reconstruction phase is underway with an emphasis on building resilience in the region to withstand the expected onslaught of more intense and frequent storms powered by the effects of climate change.
He said given the magnitude of the damage caused by the hurricanes, the region cannot rebuild without the support of the international community.
The region’s top public servant said he was also pleased that the international donor’s conference had resulted in significant international pledges to help the region rebuild and that it was also encouraging to note that the CARICOM’s relentless advocacy with respect to the lack of access to concessional development financing appears to be bearing fruit.
“There is some re-thinking on this issue taking place at the level of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and some of our international development partners (IDPs). The stark reality of our vulnerability to external shocks, including climatic events, was laid bare by the twin assault of the Hurricanes. This emphasised the urgent need for the international community to dispense with GDP per capita as a primary criterion for access to concessional development financing.”
LaRocque said that classification of most of the CARICOM countries as middle to high income countries denies them access to such funding.
“The criteria must now take into account our vulnerability as a matter of urgency. We will continue to advocate strongly for this change and to seek the help of friendly countries in this regard.”
In his Christmas message, LaRocque said that significant advances were made in the past year, particularly in regard to human resource development and energy and that regional leaders at their summit in July received and endorsed the Human Resource Development 2030 Strategy.
He said the strategy was drawn up in recognition of the imperative for a radically reformed system to address the requirements of 21st century economy and society. It outlines actions for basic education, from early childhood through secondary, the tertiary sector and life-long learning.
Also in July 2017, CARICOM countries signed the agreement establishing the Barbados-based Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE).
LaRocque said it is the implementation hub for sustainable energy activities and projects within the region.
“The Strategic Plan for the period 2015-2019 identified energy as a key driver in the pursuit of economic and climate resilience building within the Region. The centre will play a major role in the community’s thrust to increase the renewable energy share in power generation to 47 per cent by 2027, with the resulting lowering of costs to the consumers and benefits to the environment.”
LaRocque said that CARICOM had also been able to expand opportunities for the regional private sector with the signing of the Second Protocol to the CARICOM-Cuba Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement.
He said this protocol allows for duty free access to Cuba for CARICOM producers of approximately three hundred items which include meat, fish, dairy produce, fruits and vegetables, beer, rum, cement, soaps, articles of apparel and clothing.
He said that as the year ends, CARICOM is just past the midway point of its Strategic Plan and in the final stages of making the transition to a Results-Based Management System for the Community. “This will enable us to measure the benefits being provided to our member states as well as make us more accountable to the people of the community.
“The task ahead in 2018 and beyond is not an easy one. But we have shown that we are a resilient people and we have demonstrated time and again that we achieve our best results when we work together.
“The same spirit and energy that drive us to be each other’s keeper in times of disaster is what we need to propel our integration movement forward. Let us harness that spirit and energy and build a truly resilient community that benefits us all,” LaRocque said as he also noted that the Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA) held in Barbados this year showed that “the enthusiasm for the cultural extravaganza was not dampened by the threat of Hurricane Harvey as the people of the Caribbean showcased their creativity at various venues across the island”.