Unlike a certain other island I could name, the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda aren’t sitting back and demanding someone else’s government rebuild everything for them:
Barbuda was the first place Hurricane Irma made landfall as the Category 5 storm devastated a string of islands in the Caribbean earlier this month. As of noon ET on Friday — 24 days after the storm destroyed much of the island — Barbuda’s evacuation order was officially lifted.
Some residents were being allowed to return home this week, but health and waste management officials haven’t yet given the all-clear that the island is once again sufficiently habitable. Even before the evacuation order was lifted, construction and relief crews were working on the island. Some hotel owners were also allowed to return, to start preparing their properties to reopen.
Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the U.S., Ronald Sanders, says the evacuation meant that for the first time in 300 years, there’s been no one living on Barbuda full time.
Citing the current lack of water and power on the island, Sanders added that while people will be allowed to go back on a voluntary basis, “it’s not a bed of roses.”
The damage Barbuda received was even worse than most of the other Caribbean nations. Almost all structures on the island were completely destroyed. The island’s hospital, the cell phone towers, and other key public buildings and utilities were ruined. The island was declared uninhabitable by the Prime Minister, and with Hurricane Maria bearing down on the Caribbean, the government made the decision to evacuate all of Barbuda’s citizens to Antigua.
The government created a plan to return Barbuda to habitability. In order for people to be able to return, the hospital needs to be rebuilt and have access to clean water, the rubble needs to be cleared away, and perhaps most importantly disease vectors need to be managed. The island had many stagnant pools of water and outbreaks mosquitos following the hurricane, which posed a major health concern. The government feared potential outbreaks of zika, dengue fever, and cholera.
The reason people are now being allowed to return is many of the threats mentioned above have abated. The government and the locals have been working hard to clear out the pests and rodents and drain stagnant water. According to the latest article, many of the roads are cleared now and the hospital is partially operational again. That this much has been accomplished by such a small country in just a few weeks is impressive.
It’s nice to see a people working hard to rebuild and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. It’s a marked contrast with islands like Puerto Rico.