Recovery after Hurricane Maria has been extremely slow, reports indicate
Environmentalist and hotelier Arthie Martin is not one to laugh when dealing with serious matters, but on this occasion he did. Briefly.
Asked to gauge the country's recovery progress just over five months since Hurricane Maria dealt a crippling blow, Martin laughed.
It was not a hearty, contented laugh, nor was it one that betrayed nervousness.
It was, instead, the sort of laugh that suggested he was trying to figure out how to frame his response.
"Let me quote minister of health Dr. Kenneth Darroux: 0.0005 per cent," Martin finally said. "He was basically saying nothing has happened."
It was a reference to a comment by Darroux in mid-December last year at a global environment facility small grants programme event that there had been little progress at the time.
"We have just probably done 0.0005 per cent of our recovery but we now have to think of another hurricane season . . .," Darroux said then.
Efforts to get an update from a government spokesman proved futile, although there are those who will point to achievements such as the reopening of schools, the restoration of electricity and telephone services to some communities and the recent celebration of carnival.
However, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), in its Eastern Caribbean Humanitarian Situation Report No 9 published on 2 March, in which it referred to Dominica as "one of the poorest countries in the region", said even the basic services were failing to keep up with the other countries that were affected by Irma and Maria.
"By the end of January 2018, nearly five months after the emergency, the situation in most of the territories is slowly returning to normal, although some sectors remain of concern. In Dominica, the restoration of basic services (i.e. electricity) is progressing slower than in other countries and nearly 500 people remain in shelters," UNICEF said.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) also found areas of concern when it visited here earlier this year.
In its report published last month on the fourth round of its displacement tracking matrix, the IOM said it assessed 25 open collective centres sheltering 352 people from 114 households when it visited here between 15 and 27 January.
IOM said sixteen per cent of the centres "do not have access to hygienic latrines" while nearly half (48 per cent) of the residents "mention a lack of privacy in the assessed sites".
These reports seem to support Martin's contention that virtually every aspect of the country is lacking.
"You cannot see evidence of an organised, synergised approach to repairing the road system. In terms of agriculture it's clear; you look at the market, you look at the prices, you realise there is a growing lack of supply and people are price gouging," he said. "A lot of the large businesses have not reopened . . . from the point of view of trade and commerce, there is no evidence that the wholesale/retail trade has recovered; agriculture definitely hasn't and the slowness with which insurance is being processed has left a lot of business waiting.
"Not only are these indicators telling us the recovery has not even begun, but it is not likely to get going," Martin told The Sun.
With the 2018 hurricane season less than ninety days away, the outspoken Martin is worried that "lots of people are going to enter the next hurricane season with no roof".
"So those kinds of indicators would tell even the casual observer that you can claim recovery but you'd be hard pressed to present evidence," he said, adding that the lack of progress was depressing.
A new study soon to be published by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a United Kingdom based independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues is unlikely to lift his spirit.
The study, 'Building back better - A resilient Caribbean after the 2017 hurricanes', is written by Emily Wilkinson, John Twigg and Roger Few, and includes a segment on Dominica which quotes from an upcoming publication entitled, 'The historical drivers of disaster risk in Dominica' by Wilkinson, Few and eight other writers.
"European colonial rule from the sixteenth century set the island on a course of high-risk development that has been difficult to reverse," it says.
It mentions issues such as under-investment in infrastructure, resulting in poorly constructed roads in coastal areas and limited road networks in the interior; informal settlements with their precarious housing, the promotion of single crops despite repeated major losses due to disasters; and post-disaster aid that is only extended to landowners and given in the form of loans, which they often could not repay. These are no laughing matter, but Martin laughed while thinking of answers.