There is a saying in Tibetan: “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength”. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful an experience is, if we lose our hope, that is the real disaster.
At times though it can be easy to give in to despair. For the first time in 300 years, not a single soul is living on the Caribbean island of Barbuda. The sister island to Antigua was devastated by Hurricane Irma, which swept through and devastated the place, with winds gusting at up to 220 miles an hour. There is no potable water, no electricity and such buildings that are left are mere shells, incapable of providing shelter and dangerous to enter.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres was the latest world figure to observe at first hand the disaster this weekend.
“I’ve just witnessed a level of devastation that I’ve never seen in my life,” Guterres told reporters. “I’ve been in areas torn by conflicts. I’ve been in my own country. I’ve seen earthquakes. I’ve seen storms. I’ve never seen such a high level of devastation like the one I’ve seen in Barbuda,” he said.
The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, the Hon. Gaston Browne, was the first to reveal the devastation to the world. “This is a total national disaster,” he said, estimating that the rebuilding cost will be close to US$250 million, which is 20 per cent of Antigua and Barbuda’s gross domestic product.
Several celebrities who have homes there have pledged their support. Robert de Niro, the Oscar-winning actor, told a high-level meeting at the United Nations a couple of weeks that he discovered Barbuda as an “unspoiled beauty, a paradise found” on his first visit years ago. Now, he said, “we have a humanitarian crisis, an entire island destroyed”.
“We must act together to help the most vulnerable,” De Niro said. “The recovery process will be a long, hard road. Barbudans must be a part of it, their homes repaired stronger, rebuilt stronger, new homes stronger. The immediate needs — power, water, food, medical care, animals sheltered — must be met.”
Hours after he had finished speaking a second, almost as strong hurricane called Maria, swept through another part of the Caribbean, causing particular havoc in Dominica. Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of Dominica, sent out a message talking of widespread devastation. “The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with,” he said. “The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside.”
How should the world react to the events of the past few weeks? Governments are scrambling to support, as are multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the United Nations.
There is also a way that individuals can help. This is not only by donating to non-governmental agencies such as the Red Cross that will be handing out bottles of water and providing shelter for the homeless. The hurricane season will be over in a month or so, and soon the turbulent waters will settle down and turn turquoise once again. There will be turtles on the beaches, sunshine and palm trees as shade. All that is needed are people to come and fill the hotels, explore the islands and enjoy the hospitality. The best way to show support for the beleaguered Caribbean islanders is to travel there. You will be surprised how fabulous it is.
There is another way. Second citizenship allow people to both invest in a number of Caribbean islands including Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, and if applicable, apply for citizenship. This second citizenship confers great benefits in terms of access to other countries visa-free, including the European Union. Most countries offer either straightforward donation or real estate options.
Citizenship-by-Investment programmes have been praised by the World Bank among others for helping the economies of these fragile islands. The rebuilding of Dominica, for example, which was hit a couple of years ago by Tropical Storm Erika, would not have been so swift if it had not been for contributions from its citizenship programme. It will need the same – if not more – to rebuild again after Hurricane Maria has passed.
I would encourage anybody who has seen the devastation in the Caribbean to help in any way they can. My charity, the Global Citizen Foundation, is pledging an initial US$50,000, and calling on clients, partners, stakeholders and all global citizens to join this fundraising effort. We shall be running a charity auction at the Global Citizen Forum in Montenegro on October 19, the proceeds of which shall be donated to the recovery fund.
Best of all though, go to the Caribbean this winter for a holiday, spend money in the bars and restaurants, and visit the beautiful beaches and meet the fabulous people. They will rebuild paradise, with our help.