It’s now been more than six months since Hurricanes Irma and Maria demolished the Caribbean. Former President Bill Clinton brought his foundation to Miami on Tuesday to propose ways to rebuild Florida’s island neighbors stronger.
Category 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused $106 billion damage when they roared through the Caribbean last September in just two weeks. Small islands like Dominica and Barbuda were decimated; larger islands like Cuba and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico need years to recover.
But there is a growing consensus that the Caribbean has to rebuild differently this time. So Bill Clinton launched a Clinton Global Initiative Action Network at the University of Miami to showcase ways to make the islands more resilient. He said that’s urgent as storms get more powerful today.
“The [Caribbean] has many treasures," Clinton said as he opened the UM event, "but it’s also one of the most vulnerable areas in the world to the ravages of climate change.”
Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, said the U.S. and other donors have to find ways now to harden the Caribbean’s infrastructure.
“We’re not used to having a complete shutdown" after a hurricane, González-Colón said. "No power, no water, no telecom, no nothing. But we’re only patching up; we’re not rebuilding. We’re not putting a new system together.”
The CGI event, attended by several Caribbean leaders and hundreds of regional experts, discussed building those better energy grids, as well as other key societal pillars like agriculture and health services, to confront future disasters. Clinton also praised Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit's $600 million plan to make his hard-hit island the world’s first climate-resilient nation.
“If this can be done," Clinton said, "then the Caribbean can really begin to lead the world in a totally different direction.”
Clinton and his foundation, however, have a mixed record in the Caribbean. They’ve been widely criticized, for example, for their work in Haiti after its 2010 earthquake.