Disaster – changes how we do business in St. Kitts & Nevis

St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber declares it will not be business as usual in St. Kitts & Nevis.

The passage of two category five hurricanes, let alone two in the same season is unprecedented. Each storm ravaged several islands in one sweep.  The reality that both storms passed several miles away from us, did not change the fact that the twin-islands sustained infrastructural damage.  The impact on homes, public buildings, businesses, farms and roads was significant.

Yet it is the direct impact of the storm on other nations that concerns us.

How St. Kitts & Nevis provides for its people

St. Kitts and Nevis receives a substantial amount of supplies through the Port of Miami.  This includes all of our imported food. Retail providers adequately stocked up pre-storm.  Hurricane Irma disrupted the supply chain by hitting the Port of Miami.  Dominica supplies fruits and vegetables; these will be absent from the stands along the Bay Road for months to come.

Building material experienced a hard run as part of hurricane preparedness activities.  Repairs were quickly addressed after Hurricane Irma.  This action further depleted stocks.  Providers were unable to replenish their stocks, before Hurricane Maria plummeted more islands.  Material that was delayed after the first storm, was now further delayed.

These hurricanes were personal to citizens of St. Kitts & Nevis

St. Kitts & Nevis did not sustain a direct hit, but the impact on particular islands made this personal.  Kittitians and Nevisians have close family ties in Anguilla, St. Maarten, the USVI, the BVI and Puerto Rico. The compelling urge to help others in need gripped the Federation placing pressure on existing stock.  Increased demand for water and dry goods brought into question the country’s ability to feed itself.

The main industry of St. Kitts & Nevis was also hit.  Cruise ships began cancelling their calls. Rough seas were the initial cause. The subsequent cancellations were purely a business decision.  With St. Maarten, Tortola and Puerto Rico out of the loop there were insufficient stops on an itinerary. The cruise industry has inserted St. Kitts & Nevis on other itineraries, but the number of inbound voyages, or the lack thereof, has begun to take its toll.

Several islands in the Caribbean serve as hubs to other islands.  Puerto Rico is the regional hub for express mail. St. Maarten served as a hub for cargo shipments. The mail-order business has grown exponentially in St. Kitts & Nevis. The devastation of islands serving as hubs, brought to a temporary halt access to private imports and the importation of temporary shelter supplies.

The list goes on and on…read other views here.

How do we build resilience?

The impact of regional devastation on insurance premiums cannot be overlooked.  Sir Ronald Saunders shared his views on how the Caribbean needs to insure itself against disasters.  Read

As St. Kitts & Nevis grapples with its own situation, lessons from the experience of others can be learnt.  Dominica’s challenges with communication should drive us to build a more robust technology structure.  Barbuda’s total annihilation, should prompt us to look at our building codes and our inventory of shelters.  We must take a deeper look at our own vulnerabilities and put the necessary steps in place at personal, business and national levels.

Inherent in any plan for improvement, is the need to establish a designated fund, enabling us to help ourselves.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its in June 2017 report recommends the creation of a Growth and Resilience Fund. The intent is that such a fund will aid in the event of a catastrophic event.  The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, (ECCB), giving consideration to the same subject, covered the matter in a white paper on the matter entitled Sovereign Wealth Funds.

You can contribute to the discussion on disaster mitigation and recovery by submitting your views below.