Canada right to support Caribbean hurricane reconstruction: Gooch


The Canadian government joined the UN on Tuesday to answer a call from Caribbean nation states recovering from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which are requesting assistance from the international community for support in reconstruction.

Aside from a larger pledge from the Netherlands, which is intended exclusively for Dutch territories, the Canadian pledge of $100 million over five years was the largest in response, exceeded only by bilateral pledges from the European Union. A stark contrast to the U.S. pledge, which amounted to $4.3 million.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes delivered the announcement in her role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — UN High Level Pledging Conference.

Caesar-Chavannes was an inspired choice to share the news of Canada’s support to the region. She opened her statement sharing of her own Caribbean roots: “I myself, as a daughter of the soil from Grenada, am proud of this close bond and it is a privilege to be able to continue building these bridges between our countries.”

More than 32,000 people have been displaced by the 2017 Caribbean hurricanes, with an estimated 17,000 still in need of shelter. Communities are in the process of addressing immediate infrastructure projects, including schools, hospitals, government administrative offices, and private institutions at the core of local economies.

Livelihoods hang in the balance of this rebuild.

According to Global Affairs Canada the funding will begin by taking into account the needs assessments for both Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda. The funding further focuses on supporting local efforts, particularly those led by women, ensuring better preparation for natural disasters and reconstruction of essential services.

The Caribbean diaspora in Canada is powerful — according to 2016 census data it is nearly 750,000 strong, and Canada is immensely enhanced culturally and economically by these connections. When the storms hit, Canadian organizations, businesses and individuals sprung into action to ensure emergency supplies reached those in need.

The Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) served as a central organizing space for support to the region during the storm. The women in leadership of the JCA focused much of their efforts on Barbuda where the devastation was so widespread that the island was left uninhabitable for the first time in 300 years.

Toronto financial professional Akilah Allen-Silverstein stepped forward in support of friends and family in Dominica where 90 per cent of vegetation and structures were lost in the storm. She hosted an event this past week in efforts to replant trees and crops essential to preventing further flooding or landslides.

Akilah also shared the story of her mother, who considers herself lucky as she only lost a roof and was able to ensure her own safety while also salvaging some family albums from flooding. Her mother joined the local reconstruction efforts with a much-needed focus on securing appropriate mental health supports for communities impacted.

The success of these efforts will be defined by our ability to effectively empower women in leadership. Women who are creatively organizing to ensure children and youth don’t see a gap in their education due to the storms as institutions are rebuilt. Women working to ensure those traumatized by the storms have mental health supports. Women who are brimming with entrepreneurial ideas to bring prosperity and wellness back to their communities.

Toronto writer Sharine Taylor welcomed the Canadian investment watchfully: “We need to be mindful of how we play our global citizenship card to ensure it leads towards tangible changes on the ground.”

Sharine is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bashy Magazine, a publication aimed at carving an authentic space connecting the lived experiences of the Jamaican diaspora. I echo her hope that the support Canada is offering does not end up spent on administration before reaching the communities that need it most.

Long after the storms are no longer deemed emergencies and disappear from the headlines, local communities carry out the difficult work of balancing immediate needs of displaced families while also carrying out long-term reconstruction.

I’m proud that the Canadian government not only answered the call for assistance, but also chose to lead globally with a feminist approach in their response to supporting local reconstruction efforts in the Caribbean.

The resilient women and men rebuilding these communities have a long road ahead. In the words of Celina Caesar-Chavannes, “Canada is proud to stand in solidarity with its Caribbean friends.”

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(As published in The Toronto Star on November 26, 2017)