Catastrophe fund
set for Caribbean



WASHINGTON (April 11, 2007) —
For poor Caribbean countries, recovering from a destructive hurricane, tropical storm or earthquake - especially one that wipes out their primary source of revenue - can take years.

In Haiti, for example, recovery work is still going on two-and-a-half years after Tropical Storm Jeanne slammed into the northwestern part of the island, killing 2,500 people and leaving some 200,000 homeless.

Rebuilding also continues in Grenada, devastated in September 2004 by Hurricane Ivan. The storm, described as the worst to hit the island in more than 50 years, left 39 people dead, flattened buildings and destroyed much of the island's agricultural industry, including its key export crop nutmeg.

Throughout the Caribbean, officials agree, recovery from a disaster can be a long, drawn-out process.

"It's a very slow process," said Don Tatlock, Latin American and Caribbean liaison for Church World Service. "They don't seem to be well prepared either financially or logistically."

Part of that is about to change with the establishment of a $47 million catastrophe insurance pool designed to provide Caribbean nations with immediate funds after a hurricane or earthquake. The program was recently launched by the World Bank.

"We cannot stop the force of nature, but when disaster hits we can at least help shorten the time it takes countries, communities and families to start rebuilding their lives again," said World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz. "That is money well spent because the faster countries recover, the less the economic losses will be."

The new Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility was described as the world's first multinational disaster insurance plan. By pooling their risk, the 18 countries in the program are expected to save about 40 percent in individual premium payments.

The program is expected to be in place in time for the 2007 hurricane season, which officially begins June 1. Forecasters are predicting a "very active" Atlantic hurricane season.

On average, a major hurricane affects Caribbean nations every two years, the World Bank said, adding that those small countries have only limited options to respond. Since 1979, hurricanes have caused more than $16 billion in losses to Caribbean countries, it said.

Grenada, for example, is still rebuilding after Hurricane Ivan, according to Denis Antoine, its ambassador to the United States.

"In Haiti, they're still trying to recover from the big floods in Gonaives," Tatlock added.

Tatlock said one of the reasons for the slow recovery was lack of money.

"It's really hard to raise funds for a disaster response for the Caribbean," he said, noting that after the initial media coverage of a disaster there, the island nations typically received little publicity about their ongoing needs.

"A lot of places in these countries are tourist destinations and they have the resources and insurance to help rebuild," he said. "People forget about the other parts of the island where there is a lot of poverty but which need a lot of reconstruction as well."

Antoine said the insurance plan would be a boon to the region if a hurricane or earthquake occurred. He urged expansion of the plan to cover flooding as well.

"The fact that 18 countries have agreed to participate speaks volumes about the necessity for this facility," Antoine said.

Countries participating in the program are the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Bermuda, Montserrat, St. Lucia, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Turks and Caicos Islands.

Announcement of the program and $47 million in pledges came during a conference in Washington. Donors in addition to the World Bank included Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Bermuda and the Caribbean Development Bank.

"The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility will be critical in helping vulnerable countries start repairs quickly," Wolfowitz said. "And for the most vulnerable citizens in these countries, this facility can help them start rebuilding their lives sooner rather than later."

However, he said that the island nations also needed to take steps to minimize risk.

"Insurance is only one part of the answer," he said. "We must continue to strengthen institutional preparedness and we also need to prepare infrastructure to better withstand the effects of major natural disasters through better building codes, urban planning and disaster management."

Tatlock, who was in Haiti in January and the Dominican Republic in March, agreed.

"I hope that it [insurance fund] does have a positive impact on these countries that do not have much capacity," he said. "I also hope that there will be some support for preparedness and mitigation as well."

Tatlock suggested that preparedness and mitigation could be made a part of a contract agreement with the countries.

Wolfowitz said the Caribbean program could serve as a pilot for other small states, such as the Pacific Islands.