The Current

'This is a humanitarian crisis': Hurricane-stricken Caribbean islands plea for international help

As Caribbean Islands continue to reel in the wake of hurricane Maria and Irma, some leaders are urging the international community to help.
Hurricane Irma, a dangerous Category 5 storm, was the most powerful seen in the Atlantic in over a decade. (Caribbean Buzz via AP)

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"We are the least of the polluters but the largest of the casualties. The unfairness, injustice, and inequality are painfully obvious."

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne did not mince words when addressing the United Nations.  His two-island Caribbean nation was hammered by Hurricane Irma earlier this month, and he wants the international community to pay attention.

"For us, climate change is real and we are living the consequences of climate change. And we are asking for is some level of improved responsibility from the profligate users of fossil fuels — those who need to reduce their carbon footprint," Browne tells The Current's Friday host Piya Chattopadhyay.

Damage left after Hurricane Irma hit Barbuda. (Anika E. Kentish/Associated Press)

Canada has made a contribution of $200,000 US to help in rebuilding Antigua and Barbuda, and Browne says he remains hopeful that "Canada will come to our assistance."

"I indicated to [Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] this is a situation of dire need. This is a humanitarian crisis in which we require the assistance of a bigger brother in this hemisphere," he says.

"It's not a case that we're coming, begging cap in hand. This is a plea based on need. This is not a situation in which we are trying to exploit the situation. This is just an absolute need."

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma blasted Antigua and Barbuda, hurricane Maria barrelled through the Caribbean. Dominica was directly in the path of the Category 5 storm, where 27 people died and dozens more are still missing. 

The country is still grappling to restore electricity, running water and housing.

"It has been a very, very, very difficult past several days," Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit tells Chattopadhyay.

"My entire country has been devastated from the south to the north. Ninety per cent of the housing has been destroyed. A 100 per cent of our agriculture, 100 per cent of our forest — as you know Dominica prides itself on the protection of the environment."

Skerrit says this disaster has also scarred the country emotionally — "it's going to take us a very long time to get over this."

Hurricane Maria smashed into the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica on Sept. 19. The prime minister says the damage is devastating. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Canadian frigate HMCS St. John's is in Dominica currently using helicopters to bring aid to inaccessible communities.

"The Canadians have been very helpful," Skerrit says.

But he says a common worry of small island states is being abandoned.

"We're very fearful that the international community will forget us and not provide us with the kind of help we need, and in the urgency of getting the help to us," Skerrit explains.

"Even in a discussion on climate change and conversations which we will have to have, you know, we keep saying to the international community you need to look at our own unique circumstances of small island states.

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson.