Regional Challenges in the Caribbean

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 60

In the aftermath of the volcanic eruption in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the country received direct aid from CARICOM neighbours such as Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, and fellow Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) members such as Grenada and Saint Kitts and Nevis, as well as from other diplomatic ties (Venezuela), to name a few.  On April 20th, 2021, a USD 29.2 million UN Global Appeal was launched in support of the country and as of June 18, 2021, USD 9.5 million (32%) has been raised by donors such as the United States of America, UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), and the United Kingdom. Yet, there is more to be done. In an op-ed, the Directors General Emeritus and General of The IICA, posit that “The dual assault of the pandemic and volcano eruption has sparked the need for deeper Caribbean regional integration.” 

Indeed, threats of COVID-19, the volcano, hurricanes and political instability and more, continue. 

COVID-19

Relatively speaking, COVID-19 seemed to have spared the Caribbean of the worst when compared to the other parts of the world and the continent of the Americas. However, when the numbers are compared based on confirmed cases and death rates related to the total of population, the data on the Caribbean island nations becomes reveals a different picture.

The Caribbean Netherlands Antilles as well as Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten show the highest rates per capita in the Americas. Bahamas, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and Saint Vincent all have had more confirmed cases per capita than such a massively populated country such as Mexico. The different COVID-19 variants present in the region risk to worsen the already precarious situation in the Caribbean. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recently reported the deadly delta variant has been detected in Barbados, Martinique, St Martin, Guadeloupe, Aruba and Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile delayed and cumbersome vaccine purchase and distribution processes is now facing hesitancy among people. As it has been reported on Saint Vincent and Dominica, UN’s COVAX program has initiated distribution of the vaccines in the different island nations. It is a massive international endeavor that will necessitate the support and coordination of both international and regional actors working in tandem. However, much it is still to be done to cover the entire Caribbean region when comparing the number of vaccines secured under international agreements and the total population.

Hurricanes, Volcanoes and Other Natural Disasters

At the end of June 2021, The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Seismic Research Centre (SRC), the official monitoring body for seismic activity throughout the English-speaking Eastern Caribbean and whose team has been observing and reporting on La Soufrière from within Saint Vincent, reminded persons that:

While volcanic activity has been on a decline, the continued presence of near surface hot spots, daily seismic activity and substantial degassing is proof that the system is still in unrest. There is a small, but NOT INSIGNIFICANT, possibility that escalation in activity can still take place with little or no warning.

More recently, Tropical Storm and eventually Category 1 Hurricane Elsa killed at least three people during its path in the Caribbean region. Our colleague, Yasmin Morais reported last year on how the different island nations were facing the pandemic from their historical expertise when it comes to facing ever-increasing catastrophic natural disasters. The lessons are still being learned and much needs to be assessed when it comes to a pandemic which refuses to abate amidst more powerful hurricanes every year.

Political Instability

The ongoing political crisis in Haiti and the recent assassination of its president Jovenel Moïse most definitely put the spotlight of the region’s political instability on Haiti. President Jovenel Moïse had been ruling the country by decree since January 2020, because the parliament was out of session. The terms of two-thirds of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate expired months before the pandemic hit the Caribbean nation in March. Despite international criticism and calls to form a transitional government, President Moïse had repeatedly expressed his intention to remain in power until February 2022 and hold at least three different elections during 2021: legislativereferendum on a new constitution and presidential. Opposition leaders have expressed their desire to hold elections as soon as possible and limit Moïse’s hold on power until February 2021Social protests have marred the country as political uncertainties increase and COVID-19 destroys the last hopes of an economy already devastated. Neighboring countries, CARICOM and the international community are closing following the situation.

Few small island developing states (SIDS) would have the experience of managing COVID-19 amidst natural disasters and political instability either at home or closely by. We wait to see how the region continues to face the challenges related to COVID-19 public health emergency, vaccine hesitancy, other public health issues, as well as natural phenomena, and political crises, and if there will be a need for further supporting legislation. 

By Jolie Rajah and Marcelo Rodríguez

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