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July 3, 2024
We can’t wait anymore’
July 3, 2024

In the aftermath

With last week’s passage of Hurricane Beryl, the urgency of disaster preparedness has never been more apparent. The 2024 hurricane season forecasts all indicate above-average activity, with meteorologists predicting a higher likelihood of major hurricanes making landfall.

This forecast builds upon a decade of intensifying storm activity, exemplified by devastating hurricanes such as Dorian (2019), Maria and Irma (2017), and Matthew (2016). These storms have left indelible marks on Caribbean nations, causing widespread destruction, loss of life, and long-lasting economic impacts.

In his May 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes, “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.” This statement underscores the global nature of climate change and its disproportionate impact on vulnerable regions like the Caribbean.

The Pope’s call for “ecological conversion” resonates deeply with the need for comprehensive disaster preparedness in the face of escalating climate-related threats.

One key aspect of preparedness highlighted in Laudato Si’ is the importance of long-term planning. Pope Francis notes, “We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations.”

For Caribbean nations, this translates to developing robust, forward-thinking disaster management strategies that not only address immediate risks but also consider long-term resilience. As recent hurricanes have demonstrated, inadequate building standards and poorly planned urban development can exacerbate the impacts of storms.

Laudato Si’ emphasises the need for “urban planning which can offer ways of living together, of communion and participation.” In the Caribbean, this means investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, including improved drainage systems, reinforced buildings, and strategically located emergency shelters.

The encyclical also stresses the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem protection, which relates to natural disaster mitigation. Mangroves, coral reefs, and other coastal ecosystems play crucial roles in buffering storm surges and reducing coastal erosion. Preserving and restoring these natural barriers should be an integral part of our hurricane preparedness strategies.

Education and community engagement are critical components of effective disaster preparedness. Pope Francis emphasises that “environmental education should facilitate making the leap towards the transcendent which gives ecological ethics its deepest meaning.”

In the Caribbean context, this translates to comprehensive public awareness campaigns about hurricane risks, evacuation procedures, and individual preparedness measures.

The changing climate has made traditional hurricane prediction models less dependable, necessitating investments in advanced early warning systems. As the encyclical states, “Technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” This means not only transitioning to cleaner energy sources but also adopting innovative meteorological technologies to improve storm tracking and provide more accurate, timely warnings to residents.

Moreover, regional cooperation is essential in addressing the transboundary nature of hurricane preparedness. Laudato Si’ calls for “a new and universal solidarity,” which in the Caribbean could manifest as shared resources, coordinated evacuation plans, and mutual aid agreements between nations.

The encyclical also highlights the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poor, stating, “Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.” This is particularly relevant for us, as many Caribbean nations are still developing and lack the resources to adequately prepare for and recover from major hurricanes. International support and climate justice initiatives are crucial to addressing this disparity.

November will signal the end of the hurricane season. It is a long way off. The teachings of Laudato Si’ can provide a moral framework for action for the next five months and the coming years.