Barbudan land ownership: a 200-year-old freedom put at risk following Hurricane Irma
TIM GEORGE 22 September 2017
Suspicion and frustration grow as Hurricane Irma evacuees find themselves unable to return home to Barbuda, whilst a law protecting the island from private and foreign investment is dismantled.
On Wednesday, 6 September 2017, Barbuda, the less known sister isle of the popular resort island of Antigua, bore the full brunt of Hurricane Irma as it struck the Leeward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean. The island suffered near total destruction: 95% of the island’s buildings were damaged, 60% of the population were rendered homeless, and a 2-year-old child was tragically killed. Antigua, on the older hand, was relatively untouched.
Visiting the island after the winds died down, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Brown received wide acclaim for deciding to evacuate the island before the fast-approaching hurricane Jose had the chance to make landfall as well. Dozens of vessels were involved in a frantic effort to transport nearly 1800 people from Barbuda to shelters on Antigua. Thankfully Jose changed course, turning north at the last minute and missing Barbuda, Antigua and the other Leeward Islands.
Meanwhile offers of help began to flood in from around the world. Skilled electricians, plumbers, builders, and carpenters from the Barbudan diaspora as well as individuals from England, Scotland, the US and Canada offered, even at their own expense, to travel to Barbuda and assist with the rebuilding efforts. Yet in Antigua these offers of support were largely ignored. Crates of aid were redirected to other Caribbean islands, and all independent efforts by Barbudan communities were blocked by the Antiguan authorities, who preferred to organise the relief efforts directly.
At the same time, a long list of wealthy private individuals and sympathetic national governments pledged their support for rebuilding of the island. Within days, even Brown announced during a special sitting of parliament that he was making 100,000 East Caribbean Dollars (£27,400) of his own money available for the rehabilitation of the island.
And then the other penny dropped
On 11 September, Brown used a public consultation to announce access restrictions on islanders wanting to return to Barbuda. Depending on the availability of ferries and transport to and from the island, trips would be organised twice a week for a couple of hours until the work to clear and rebuild Barbuda’s infrastructure could be completed. This announcement was met with dismay given growing concern about personal possessions, animals and livestock that were left on the island, but was justified citing health and safety concerns…..
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