Back in September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Dominica, killing at least 31 people, wrecking roofs on nine in ten buildings, battering forests, and causing rivers to overspill, destroying even more homes. All of this damage cost the Caribbean island nation roughly $1.3 billion — 224% of its total GDP.
Fast forward to today, and the island is well on the way to recovery, with the cleanup largely over, and a renewed focus on the future emerging. To this end, Dominica’s most impressive ambition is to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation by 2030, which includes implementing hurricane-proofing measures to lessen the impact of any future weather events. This was first proposed by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit in an impassioned speech to the UN General Assembly, just five days after the storm.
Through the work of the Climate Resilience Execution Agency for Dominica, there has been a drive to imbue climate resilience into all aspects of government, from building planning to sustainable energy initiatives. Over two and a half years on from Skerrit’s speech, there are some promising signs that Dominica is on track to meet its 2030 target.
THE ISLAND’S ECONOMY HAS GROWN
As a result of Hurricane Maria’s untold economic damage to Dominica, the island nation was forced to heavily rely on financial aid from other international partners, however, most of the reconstruction funds came from Dominica’s own sources, particularly from its Citizenship by Investment Programme. As a result, the island has set about boosting its own economy so that it could deal with the fallout by itself, should another hurricane hit. Therefore, economic diversification is crucial, considering Dominica’s historical dependence on its banana exports.
Investment in the tourism industry has been one of its main means of diversification, with initiatives like the opening of new holiday resorts, and the development of its ecotourism sector. This included the re-opening of Jungle Bay, the island’s flagship ecoresort, which helps to preserve Dominica’s tropical rainforest. This focus on tourism quickly led to a huge jump in visitors between 2018 and 2019. Authorities have also bolstered the country’s real estate sector by developing new properties, triggering huge growth in Dominica’s hotel market and creating significant opportunities for overseas investors.
All of this wouldn’t have been achieved without Dominica’s Economic Diversification Fund, a government fund that finances socio-economic initiatives. This is part of the country’s citizenship by investment programme, which accounts for a significant part of the government’s revenue and has been critical to Dominica’s financial prosperity. The government’s efforts to diversify the economy have paid off, with GDP growing by an incredible 9% in 2019. This makes it the fastest-growing economy in Latin American and the Caribbean.
THE NATION HAS STARTED A HOUSING REVOLUTION
Dominica is ensuring its new homes will be a lot more durable through a construction code known as ‘building back better’. This code also guides the ‘Housing Revolution’ which involves rebuilding or rehabilitating existing properties and designing new ones in compliance with Dominica’s updated building standards, implemented after the hurricane. The code covers everything from suitable foundations and walls, to robust roofs and retrofits, and the country has aimed for 90% of its homes to comply with these guidelines by 2030. To support this intention, the Dominican government signed a $3 million deal with China for the provision of durable roofs, and aims to build 5,000 new hurricane-resistant housing units across the island. The Housing Revolution is funded entirely by Dominica’s Citizenship by Investment Programme – which is the best CBI programme in the world and most trusted by investors looking to obtain second citizenship by means of investment.
It looks like an ambitious target on paper alone, but many hurricane-resistant housing projects have already been completed, and many more are underway. The Castle Bruce Housing Project, for example, was finished in September 2019, and the keys to 66 housing units were handed over to residents. Elsewhere, 98 units have been inhabited through the Bellevue Chopin Resettlement Programme, with just five more zones left to complete. Meanwhile, just under 500 existing properties had hurricane-resilient roofs installed within a year of the hurricane, including schools, hospitals and government buildings, A further thousand have benefited from the same measures courtesy of the Dominica Red Cross Society.
DOMINICA’S RENEWABLE ENERGY EFFORTS ARE WELL UNDERWAY
Dominica has committed to making better use of renewable energy sources to help reduce the impacts of future hurricanes. Hurricane Maria triggered a complete power cut, which put lives at risk when the island’s main hospital lost all power. As a result, the Dominican government vowed to better harness solar and geothermal solutions to ensure the island wouldn’t be left without electricity in a similar situation, along with moving the electricity infrastructure safer below ground level.
Since Hurricane Maria, Dominica has made huge progress towards meeting this target, pushing forward with plans to build a geothermal plant which would provide clean energy to around 23,000 homes — almost the island’s entire population. In October 2019, well testing on the plant was successfully completed, and construction is projected to conclude within the next couple of years. Meanwhile, many of Dominica’s health centres have been fitted with solar panels and battery storage systems that enable them to function off-grid for at least three days.