When a small Caribbean island builds back better

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Ginger Village is a scenic place on the island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, perched on a hilltop overlooking the Caribbean Sea. As our van pulled aside to see the newly rehabilitated Belmont road during a recent visit, it was easy to see why this main inland route was the lifeline of thousands of islanders who regularly commute to the main urban centers. For 5 years the road had been partially blocked following a landslide caused by the severe rains in 2013. 

You can easily imagine how such an incident on a single road can cause significant disruption in the movement of traffic on a small island with few connecting routes like Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a small island nation in the Caribbean with a population of approximately 110,000 people and a GDP per capita of about US$ 7,500. Like most of its neighbors, this country is highly vulnerable to natural disasters due to its size and location. 

In fact, the average GDP losses from natural disasters in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines between 1998 and 2017 is estimated as 1.2 % per year – more than half the GDP growth rate over those two decades . These disasters demand substantial spending to finance reconstruction and repairs, absorbing scarce public resources and contributing to high indebtedness. In turn, a small population and limited economies of scale often means that the country lacks the capacity and skilled professionals to effectively tackle these challenges on its own. 

Torrential rains on Christmas Eve in 2013 wiped out 15 % of the country’s GDP

A major disaster affecting the country struck on Christmas Eve in 2013, when torrential rains led to severe flash flooding causing damages and losses estimated at 15 % of the country’s GDP. The islands’ infrastructure was devastated and about 15 % of its population was directly impacted – all in one day. 

The ensuing damages led to severe disruptions as bridges and roads were damaged or destroyed; hydropower plants -accounting for 17 % of generation capacity- were disabled; water services were cut to more than 50 % of the population due to loss of transmission pipes; 225 people were evacuated to emergency shelters; and schools were closed as emergency operations were ongoing. Reconstruction financing needs were estimated by the Damage and Loss Assessment to amount to more than US$108 million, of which 62 % was mobilized by the World Bank.
 

Main road in Ginger Village area before and after rehabilitation and slope stabilization works/ World Bank

 

Due to their magnitude and impact on people, the World Bank has prioritized helping Saint Vincent and the Grenadines build resilience against natural disaster and climate change .  Through the $66.5 million Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project, the World Bank, the European Development Fund, the Strategic Climate Fund and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery are financing critical infrastructure investments and capacity building to help the country and its people prepare and respond to disasters better. This is a good example of leveraging World Bank financing with grants from bilateral and multilateral resources for critical recovery and infrastructure reconstruction. 

For instance, the Belmont road rehabilitation was critical to alleviate traffic congestion in the island, as the road connected to the international airport and served as the main route for small farmers in the area to take their crops to market in the capital city, Kingstown. 

Ongoing works also include the construction of satellite shelters in poor communities to provide immediate access to emergency disaster response equipment and supplies such as water and first aid in the aftermath of a disaster , and strengthening of the river embankments to prevent overflowing and protect over 200 families. The World Bank has also supported the country in strengthening fiscal policy and climate resilience and adaptation through a US$30 million development policy operation. 

Being small brings challenges, but also opportunities

Our experience in the Caribbean has shown that being small brings challenges to a country, but also opportunities. Smallness also means that focused interventions and critical investments can have a substantial impact on the lives of large portions of the population. 

It also facilitates the immediate attention and understanding of local needs by senior government officials, including the Heads of Government. This means that, once prioritized, policies and interventions can be implemented throughout the entire country. 

According to recent estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the frequency of extreme weather events in small islands is expected to double by 2050 , so it is an important step by Caribbean governments to have brought building the region’s resilience to shocks to the forefront of their agenda.  

Helping communities such as the ones like Ginger village to take on these vulnerabilities is a critical part of the World Bank’s effort to contribute to a sustainable and resilient future in the Caribbean.
 

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