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Antigua And Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne On Rebuilding After A Hurricane


For the people of Antigua and Barbuda, the images coming out of the Bahamas this week are familiar scenes of destruction. In 2017, Hurricane Irma lashed the island nation as a Category 5 storm. Earlier, I spoke with Gaston Browne, the country's prime minister, about that storm and what it takes to recover.

PRIME MINISTER GASTON BROWNE: Luckily for us, we didn't have a lot of fatalities. We only had one fatality - a small child - but the damage to property was devastating. In fact, 95% of the properties on Barbuda were damaged. Several of them were actually totally demolished. And it will take us years to fully recover Barbuda.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think, at the time, the estimates for rebuilding were in the hundreds of millions, $220 million...

BROWNE: Right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Which was a massive amount of money for a country your size.

BROWNE: And that is the reality of, you know, the cost associated with these storms. It's the reality of climate change. I know your president doesn't believe in climate change. But I hope he'll change his position because, ultimately, it is countries here in the Caribbean that are really suffering the greater consequences from the effects of climate change.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. At the time, you also said that rich countries should pay for the recovery because they are the ones emitting the greenhouse gases. Do you think the same should happen with the Bahamas?

BROWNE: Well, absolutely. I mean, they should pay. They should compensate these countries in the Caribbean that have to deal with these ferocious storms that are literally damaging infrastructure, damaging people's private properties and literally undermining our development.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, who did pay after Hurricane Irma in 2017? I mean, you did accept some help from China, which is a big greenhouse gas emitter. But I'm curious - did the U.S. not step up?

BROWNE: Well, what the U.S. gave was so paltry that I don't think it was even regarded - and that's no exaggeration - whereas I can recall that the People's Republic of China made a contribution of $2 million U.S., Canada - $3 million Canadian, the European Union - 5 million euros. I do not recall that the U.S. made any significant contribution.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Obviously, the Bahamas are at the very earliest stages of their recovery, but what advice do you have for them as they look to rebuild?

BROWNE: Well, you know, the recovery is going to be difficult. I know the prime minister serving his government - they're going to come in for a lot of criticisms because, normally, your residents call upon you for immediate recovery, not take into consideration the costs and that the cost, generally speaking - they are prohibitive. For example, the funds that have been pledged by Canada, by the United Kingdom, by the European Union, we have not been able to avail (ph) ourselves of those funds as yet. And I'm quite sure the government of the Bahamas will find itself in a similar situation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what has happened in Barbuda if you have not been able to get the money you need to rebuild, sir?

BROWNE: Well, we have over 1,200 properties that were damaged. We have rebuilt about 600 of them. So as a result, we still have internally displaced persons. And that is just the reality of very scarce resources.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Prime Minister, as you have mentioned, climate change predicts fiercer storms. Have you thought about what the future might look like in your country, which might make it uninhabitable?

BROWNE: Well, you know, we do not take that position. You know, we are not looking at the future as being a bleak one. We just have to continue to agitate for large countries, like the United States, to build capacity, to mitigate and, certainly, to adapt to climate change. It will be obvious that the world will be better as a result of that type of U.S. leadership.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Gaston Browne. He is the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.