Scotland speaks with a woman whose home was demolished by Maria

Commonwealth Secretary-General and Dominican, Baroness Patricia Scotland, said she was heartbroken after witnessing the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Dominica.

She recently visited Dominica and Antigua and has vowed to strengthen “legal frameworks to meet mitigation and adaption goals and ensure smooth relief efforts after hurricanes of this magnitude.”

She stated that upon visiting Dominica and Barbuda, which devastated by Hurricane Irma, nothing could have prepared her for what she saw.

“Flying in to Dominica, I hardly recognised the country of my birth. Maria has devoured almost all its vegetation. The signature green that used to define this fertile breadbasket of the Caribbean is gone, replaced by brown, bald patches of land and naked trees, stripped of their barks,” she said. “When I landed I was heartbroken. It was like an angry giant had stomped all over this beautiful island. Recently built roads were smashed and barely accessible, decades of infrastructure development gone.”

She said one touching and poignant moment was seeing a woman sitting in the midst of the rubble that used to be her home.

“She just sat there, among the pieces where her house once stood,” Scotland stated. “In 2015 Storm Erika had damaged her house, but Maria picked it up in her mighty hands and crushed it. She and her children, one of them just nine years old, are now homeless.”

She said in another area, her guide MP for the Soufriere Constitutency Denise Charles pointed to a collection of storm debris.

“Another example of a badly damaged road, I thought, but she told me that three house used to stand in the spot. Fourteen people perished when Maria demolished them,” she stated.

She also spoke of her experience when visiting Scotts Head in the south of the island.

“In the historic fishing village of Scotts Head, which holds many fond memories for me, Maria has created a new beach. Before, that beach was a row of houses. It is impossible to tell now that those homes ever existed. All that’s left are small piles of rubble on a stretch of bay sand, and a single fishing boat that somehow survived the carnage. This story of utter devastation, of screams in the dead of night, of burials and memorials, were repeated everywhere I went. No corner of the island is untouched by Maria,” she said.

She said despite the unspeakable tragedy, during her visit to Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, she saw “an unbreakable spirit of resilience and revival.”

“I was able to attend Independence celebrations in both countries. I heard the leaders deliver powerful speeches about rebuilding better, stronger and greener. These countries declared loudly ‘we are still standing and we will continue to rise up from this disaster’. But they need help,” Scotland noted. “During my visit I met prime ministers Gaston Browne and Roosevelt Skerrit, opposition leaders, Baldwin Spencer and Lennox Linton, as well as members of the diplomatic community and other international organisations who are still on the ground and have done so much to help Barbuda and Dominica.”

She added, “I promised to do everything in my power to challenge rules that say a high-income but climate vulnerable country that has just lost all its economic sectors and its entire GDP to a hurricane, is ineligible for Official Development Assistance (ODA). We have already seen progress on this after the UK intervened, with donor countries now committing to review the rules.”

She noted that the Commonwealth is supporting both countries through initiatives such as our Climate Finance Access Hub.

“We already have an expert on the ground in Antigua and Barbuda and we are working with Dominica to get someone in as soon as possible to help create strong climate change projects which will attract funding,” she remarked. “The Commonwealth is helping to strengthen legal frameworks to meet mitigation and adaption goals and ensure smooth relief efforts after hurricanes of this magnitude. Our recently launched Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform is providing legislative reform guides and drafting tools. We will also make available a legal climate change toolkit which will be launched this week at the United Nations annual climate change conference, COP23.