By Kendria Ferguson
NASSAU, The Bahamas, Friday May 4, 2018 – Since the end of the 2017 hurricane season, the region has been actively developing mitigation strategies to address climate-related vulnerabilities. The lack of access to post-disaster relief funding and the increasing need for climate-related assistance from developed countries has been hot topics of discussion, as government officials throughout the region attend a plethora of international and regional summits on climate change. With the many conversations being had, along the way we have somehow forgotten to address the social welfare of climate change and how it shapes low-income resilience.
Backtrack to September 2004 when Grenada was hit by Hurricane Ivan, a Category 3 storm with gusts up to 135 mph that caused a tremendous amount of damage: Ivan drastically impacted the economy of Grenada which was projected to grow by 4.7 per cent that year as a result of an increase in agriculture, tourism, and construction development projects. Following Ivan, which left 28 people dead and 90 per cent of homes and hotel guest rooms damaged, there was an economic productivity decline of -1.4 per cent, representing a 60 per cent loss in employment opportunities.
Eric Lindberg wrote in January 2017 that climate change was a major issue for social workers – that is, climate change is not just an environmental issue but it is also a social and economic issue. Reviewing the destruction caused by Ivan, its affect on poverty rate, health care availability and unemployment were evident. Post-economic assessments conducted by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) revealed that 52 per cent of the households in Grenada were headed by men and 48 per cent by women, but among those living below the poverty line, women accounted for 52 per cent of household headships. At local shelters, officials also found that those families who lived below the poverty line had more children within a single household than their counterparts, and were impacted the most post-storm by the slow food distribution operations.
Complex linkages between poverty, high crime rates, low economic growth and diversity, environmental degradation and skewed family structures have all been investigated from a social aspect, but rarely within the context of improving climate resilience.
Attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings in London (April 2018), leaders noted that without “urgent action to mitigate climate change, reduce vulnerability and increase resilience, the impacts of climate change could push an additional 100 million people into poverty by 2030.”
Due to the region’s small economies, social inequalities remain, but in the wake of climate change and the increasing occurrence of hurricanes, one must take the time to rethink resilience in the context of low-income communities and their social welfare.
The reality is that low-income households and those living below the poverty line have very little resources needed to adequately prepare and recover from hurricane damage. While at the national level we speak about improving resilience and post-recovery time, there is a proportionate part of our population that will continue to fall deeper into the constraints of poverty if we fail to integrate climate-related strategies in the context of ongoing social ills.
Kendria Ferguson is a Sustainability Consultant based in Nassau, The Bahamas. She holds a Masters of Arts in Sustainable Energy from the University of South Florida and is an accredited Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate (GA) professional. Her work focuses on sustainable development and climate change adaptation and resilience in Small Island Developing States (SIDS).