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Hurricane Irma: When Disaster Strikes, the UK Must Respond

by John Brian Shannon

In the aftermath of hurricane Irma, the people of Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands have complained that emergency aid from the UK was late in arriving.

Indeed, while the UK was still formulating its response, French President Emmanuel Macron had already visited the French overseas territories of St. Martin and St. Barts, staying overnight and sleeping on a camp cot in a military tent after promising islanders their communities will not only be rebuilt — but will be rebuilt better than before.

Nearing the end of a sweeping visit to assess the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma, French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to rebuild the wrecked island of St. Martin and diversify its economy away from tourism.

“What we have seen today are people determined to rebuild and return to a normal life,” Macron said Tuesday in a news conference. “They are impatient for answers and some are very, very angry. The anger is legitimate because it is a result of the fear they have faced and of being very fatigued. It is certain that some want to leave, and we will help them in that effort.”

He said France was bringing in air-conditioned tents so children can start classes again soon, and that a center would be established by Monday to begin processing requests for financial help.

Macron pledged to rebuild St. Martin as a “model island” that would be a “showcase of French excellence” in terms of its ability to withstand storms. “I don’t want to rebuild St. Martin as it was,” he said. “We have seen there are many homes that were built too precariously, with fragile infrastructure. The geography of the homes was not adapted to the risks.”

‘I don’t want to rebuild St. Martin as it was’: French president vows help for Irma’s damage in Caribbean (Business Insider)

As the French President toured the French islands destroyed by Irma, 1000 British troops arrived in the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla to help residents who rode out the storm.

Like President Emmanuel Macron the day before, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also faced criticism from islanders who said that too little emergency assistance had been rendered too late.


OECD Rules Miss the Mark on Emergency Aid and Development Assistance

Complicating British, French and Dutch emergency assistance efforts are regulations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that prevent countries from rendering aid to wealthy or developed nations in an attempt to keep much-needed aid flows going towards developing nations.

However, and even with the best of intentions, those OECD rulings have caused at least two European countries to miss the mark on emergency aid, post-Irma.

In the British case, removed from the OECD’s Official Development Assistance list were Anguilla (2014) Turks and Caicos (2008) and the British Virgin Islands in 2000.

One wonders what could have prompted OECD officials to create regulations that (de facto) prevent assistance to wealthy island nations ravaged by hurricane in this case. Aren’t they aware that hurricanes occur every year in the Caribbean?


When You Know You’re Right – ACT!

It seems appropriate in these situations that UK (and French, and Dutch) governments should simply ignore regulations by any regulatory body (in this case, it was the powerful and usually brilliant OECD) and just go ahead and do what needs doing — taking care of the needs of traumatized, injured, and suddenly homeless residents. The OECD has no military; It can’t enforce the regulations in situ.

When your people need help in an emergency, the onus is on leaders to ignore deficient regulations/legislation and do the right thing.

Certainly, leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, or Helmut Kohl wouldn’t have been deterred from sending generous amounts of aid to hurricane-ravaged islanders, accompanied by a convincing naval task force if necessary, in case anyone had any idea of stopping their aid convoy. I can easily imagine Maggie supervising the entire emergency aid operation and God help anyone who got in her way, including the OECD or even God himself!

Yet, Theresa May could have the best long-term plan of all — changing the OECD rules!

Hurricane Irma: UK seeks foreign aid overhaul to help British victims (Sky News)

In the long-term, Prime Minister Theresa May is right. Now is the time to fight the existing regulations because next week everyone will have forgotten about Irma and several destroyed Caribbean islands and will be talking about the Kardashians instead.

Theresa May will have a fight on her hands because, as anyone who has ever tried to get anything changed knows, change is almost impossible to accomplish.

This week, some attention-seeking British MP’s called her out for ‘grandstanding’ for seeking to change the obviously well-intentioned but misguided OECD regulations on allowing aid to wealthy or developed nations. Let’s hope that the Prime Minister succeeds at the OECD and that attention-seeking MP’s are put in their place.


But more than all of that, I hope PM Theresa May comes to the same conclusion as French President Macron and declares that the hurricane damaged islands will be rebuilt even better than before and able to withstand the forces of nature in the Caribbean’s hurricane alley.


Concrete Plans

In this situation, and in regards to other weather events, it’s blatantly obvious that the only structures undamaged by extreme weather are made from concrete.

Rather than rebuild wood frame houses and businesses every five or ten years, the obvious conclusion is to build them from concrete, only once!

By paying the cost of emergency aid now, and by covering the cost differential between new concrete structures and what building owners receive from their insurance company to rebuild their wood construction building, fewer lives will be lost to hurricanes, storm surges, tsunamis and earthquakes in the future, insurance rates won’t skyrocket every decade, and entire islands won’t need to be rebuilt only to be destroyed at the next major hurricane. And saving tens of millions of pounds sterling in future emergency aid funding in the process.


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