by Ezra Fieser
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) — Caribbean islands decimated during a disastrous hurricane season are starting the long, costly process of rebuilding, even as aid agencies are assisting thousands of families left homeless by the storms.
Bishop Robert Llanos, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of St. John’s-Basseterre, said the Catholic Church is coordinating shipments of construction equipment for families who are starting to rebuild on islands left largely destroyed by hurricanes Irma and Maria in September. His diocese five English-speaking Caribbean islands.
“The relief process is well-organized, and people are getting taken care of,” Bishop Llanos told Catholic News Service. “We’re now looking at cleaning up and rebuilding.”
On two of the hardest-hit islands, Dominica and Barbuda, the government and residents have plans to rebuild to prevent such disasters in the future, Bishop Llanos said.
In Barbuda, which the government said was left uninhabitable after taking a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, families are carrying materials by boat from neighboring Antigua to rebuild their homes. Construction supplies have been donated from other Caribbean islands and the United States, the bishop said.
On Dominica, the government is preparing to rebuild as the world’s first climate-resilient nation, including homes that will be able to withstand major hurricanes, public buildings that can operate through emergencies, and renewable energy generation.
“We are not going to patch things up quickly and cheaply and hope another hurricane does not hit us,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in a national address Oct. 16. “We will rebuild Dominica to be more resilient and more sustainable.”
In rebuilding stronger, however, the governments face a challenge in securing financing while their economies struggle to recover from the storms. Religious organizations, led by Jubilee USA, an interfaith, nonprofit alliance of religious, development and advocacy organizations, are urging the international community to provide the funding.
“Islands like Puerto Rico and Dominica are in critical need of reconstruction funds,” said Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, in a statement Oct. 20.
Even as the rebuilding begins, thousands of families are relying on aid agencies for basic needs more than a month after the hurricanes ripped through the region, killing dozens and causing billions of dollars in damage.
Bishop Llanos, whose diocese includes the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, islands that also saw severe damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria, said church agencies, including Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, are focusing on the neediest families.
“It’s moving ahead, slowly but surely,” he said. “Our role is to find the most vulnerable, those overlooked by other organizations or the government, to ensure those individuals are receiving the help that they need.”
In Dominica, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Antilles are distributing tarps, water filters and hygiene kits to families in Dominica. In Puerto Rico, where more than three-fourths of the island is still without power and many communities don’t have water services, Caritas Puerto Rico has reached more than 100,000 people with food and water. Across other islands, Catholic organizations are handing out vouchers that allowed people impacted by the hurricanes to purchase basic goods.
“For a lot of these areas, things remain very difficult,” Bishop Llanos said.