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UN chief to visit battered Caribbean islands

Thursday, October 05, 2017

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) — The world's response to the devastation from back-to-back hurricanes in the Caribbean has been poor, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said yesterday ahead of a visit to three affected islands.

Guterres will travel to Antigua, Barbuda and Dominica on Saturday to get a close-up view of the damage wrought by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that hit within two weeks.

The United Nations has launched an appeal for US$113.9 million to cover urgent humanitarian needs, but “on the whole, I regret to report, the response has been poor”, Guterres told reporters.

He said small islands like Dominica — population 73,000 — must be given access to special financing mechanisms because they are unable to tap into normal capital markets.

The United Nations is working with the World Bank to carry out disaster assessments and help the islands rebuild with a view to becoming more resilient to extreme weather fuelled by climate change.

“A warmer climate turbocharges the intensity of hurricanes,” said Guterres. “Instead of dissipating, they pick up fuel as they move across the ocean.”

Barbuda was devastated by Irma, a monster Category Five hurricane that unleashed winds of 300 kilometres (186 miles) per hour for 37 hours — the longest on record at that intensity.

Harvey and Irma marked the first time that two Category Four storms made landfall in the United States in the same year, said the UN chief.

Maria decimated Dominica and had a severe impact across Puerto Rico, the US island visited by President Donald Trump on Tuesday.

Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit made an emotional appeal when he addressed the UN General Assembly 10 days ago, saying his country was “on the front line of the war on climate change”.

“The desolation is beyond imagination,” he told the assembly.