Hurricane Maria offered a chance for Dominica to re-assess how it can better provide national infrastrcuture to its citizens by minimizing their vulnerabilities. This section seeks to highlight ways Dominica has responded to disaster in order to build back better public services and protection while also providing some areas of improvement.
Health Care Facility Access
Access to health care centers is crucial after a disaster that can injure many individuals. Most of the population lives in the larger cities on the island's coast where health centers are more easily accessible. Accessing these health centers can be very challenging for people who live in more remote areas. The distance and the potential for road and bridge damage would affect people's travel. Decentralizing health services is crucial to ensuring equitable access to health facilities. The government has planned to reconstruct several Health and Wellness Centers to provide more access in Mahaut, Georgetown, Bellevue Chopin, Vielle Case, Wesley, and Marigot.
Olivia Douglas Health and Wellness Center in Georgetown, Portsmouth. Image from GIS, 2021
Maria Moise Health and Wellness Center in Bellevue Chopin. Image from GIS, 2021
One of the key areas the government has invested in, is the Dominica-China Friendship Hospital, with EC 100 million coming from the central government. The hospital represents a collaborative alliance between China and the Dominican government, producing a larger and more modern facility. At the hospital's opening ceremony, on September 6, 2019 Prime Minister Skerrit "assured nationals that the new facility is a state-of-the-art modern facility" (GIS, 2019).
"We want to build this new hospital as a first-class hospital." -Ambassador of the People's Republic of China His Excellency Lu Kun.
Opening Ceremony of Hospital 2019 Images Porvided by Government Information Service (GIS)
Despite efforts to improve healthcare facilities, numerous residents are unsatisfied with the product given out of this alliance. For example, Eric J. Rolle P.E. PMP, DBIA who is a native Dominican and an executive at the US civil engineering firm Shrewsberry and Associates. In an interview he described his experience at the hospital when he took his mother of 93 years to the hospital for covid treatment on January 8, 2023. He was dissatisfied with the quality of the hospital, considering it was recently built. Eric Rolle was surprised that there were leaks in the roof in some areas, scuff marks on the wall, and gauges in the wall for a facility built within the last few years. He has experience in hospital construction and in the interview, he provided some insight on construction quality. From his construction experience, he believed that the builders used sub-standard quality construction materials with inadequate construction techniques. He did not feel comfortable leaving his mother in the hospital, especially since covid patients were kept in the old hospital wing, which he believed was in such a state that it needed demolition. He stated that a "better quality control program would ensure a quality constructed project" (E. Rolle, personal communication, February 1, 2023). Given the hospital costing USD 40 million to build, Eric Rolle believed Dominicans were not getting a quality asset.
This testimony provides insight into areas for improvement in building healthcare facilities on the island by ensuring quality construction techniques and materials to guarantee that citizens have access to a long-lasting and well-maintained facility.
After two natural disasters within two years, Dominica's water supply company, Dominica Water and Sewerage Company Limited (DOWASCO), took a significant hit. Water, a critical necessity for island citizens, became a vital point to address in moving toward Dominica's commitment to resilience. In line with CREAD's goal to ensure that the population can quickly access water and sanitation after an extreme weather event, DOWASCO has been working to upgrade the water supply system. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the United Kingdom Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund (UKCIF) are the major donors for the Water Sector Strategic Development Works Project (WSSDP) to install a more resilient water supply system. Resilient designs ensure that intakes and pipelines are robustly built and protected from flooding. DOWASCO is building a new intake for the water supply based on suitability models to be a safe location. The project will assist Dominica in managing the availability, quantity of water resources available, and commercial use.
Image taken from DOWASCO website
Upgrading the system has not been a clear-cut path. After Tropical Storm Erika in 2015, DOWASCO began to make some repairs — only for the work to be stripped away during Hurricane Maria in 2017. After Maria, the strong winds, flooding, landslides, falling trees, and a power outage damaged 41 out of the 43 water supply areas in the country. In CREAD's 2019 Assessment, the agency diagnosed that one of the key struggles of the project's development is the lack of data available for analyzing the status and informing recommendations. Another challenge is securing the Government of Dominica's funding support for implementing reforms and timely project packaging for grant funding from external financing partners. Not to mention, when Covid-19 hit the world, Dominica experienced many delays on numerous development projects across the island. The project was delayed even further with limited shipments of imported materials and strict covid management policies (e.g., social distancing and curfews). The project has been picking up some steam since the world has settled into a new normal after the global pandemic.
Figure 10 Map of Infrastrcuture Upgrade Taken from CDB
With the project's progress delays, the island has experienced temporary interruptions in the water supply. Homes may not have access to water for anywhere between a few and several days. When visiting I was visiting Dominica recently, there were multiple instances where I would wake up in the morning with no water available. This was to homes in certain parts of the island for even up to a couple of weeks. These interruptions occurred after heavy rainfall events. The reasoning behind the interruptions primarily concerns the heavy rainfall causing debris to infiltrate the water supply. Therefore, DOWASCO has to shut off the supply for safety reasons. Residents have prepared for such occurrences with water tanks that hold water for backup. Others use rainwater collection in large containers and store the water for later use in the event of a shortage of water supply.
Housing and Infrastructure
Sail boat shot by Daniella Rolle
To build a more resilient housing sector, it was important to update the Building and Infrastructure Standards so that citizens can use best-practices in rebuilding and re-designing homes. New standards were particularly important since Hurricane Maria affected 90% of the housing sector: 15% destroyed and 75% partially destroyed. The total damages accumulate to EC 956 million in replacement costs of destroyed homes, repair cost of partially damaged houses, and replacement cost of household goods destroyed. The newly published standards go over foundation guidelines, how to reinforce structures at joints in walls, and to properly install roofs.
Table 2 Quantity of Imported Construction Materials with a specific emphasis on the years with a major natural disaster (Tropical Storm Erika 2015 and Hurricane Maria 2017). Data Source: Central Statistics Dominica.
Table 2 gives insight on the changes in the damages individuals and businesses had to repair based on imported construction goods. It also gives insight on the changes in construction material, such as cement used to make concrete, to make more sturdy infrastructure in the rebuilding process. This is especially evident in some cases, the year after the natural disaster, most likely because people need to save money to be able to repair their structures. Throughout the island you can visually see a shift in material used for construction, historically wooden homes were more common but now the use of concrete homes have rapidly grown over the years.
A standardized assessment is necessary to identify and notify individuals who need to rebuild or restructure their infrastructure to prevent extensive damage in the event of a future natural disaster. Overall, through various resilience infrastructure plans, the government attempts to create a centralized standard for resilience and strategize actions to carry out the rebuilding process. A crucial part of this process is establishing an Infrastructure Risk/Condition Assessment to correctly identify vulnerable structures.
The Government Information Service reported that the government has used the funding to construct resilient infrastructure, such as the EC 1.5 million for the Colihaut river defense wall in 2022. Despite significant progress and infrastructure reconstruction over the past five years, there is still evidence of persisting scars Maria inflicted. Still, some significantly damaged homes have not been torn down, and some individuals live in damaged conditions years after the hurricane. Some do not have the funds to repair their homes and thus must deal with the mess that Maria created. The landscape still possesses images of destroyed and abandoned buildings that locals can only recall what places used to look like and homes people lived in that were no longer habitable.
The most devasted communities by Maria have begun to resettle into government-provided housing slowly. On July 18, 2022, Government Information Service (GIS) published an article on granting homes to 57 vulnerable families with funding from the World Bank as a part of the Housing Recovery Project. The Housing Recovery Project is a part of the Resilient Housing Scheme. The Climate Resileince Recovery Plan states that the project has promised to dedicate EC 2.1 billion to:
the relocation of vulnerable residents
repair and retrofitting homes for vulnerable residents
subsidized home insurance for low-income families
construction of 5,000 new resilient homes for vulnerable populations
low-interest loans for retrofitting homes
the construction of safe rooms for vulnerable people
Transportation feasibility is another element of resilient infrastructure that the government addresses. The ability of cars and buses to transport themselves safely is vital for getting to work since many people must travel to the larger cities for employment. It is also crucial for driving safety to prevent accidents. In a tropical climate with lots of rainfall, it is difficult to maintain good driving roads since it is prone to degradation. The government has begun to address the issue, spending hundreds of millions on rehabilitating or constructing new roads over the past five years. Numerous roads are in significantly better condition and temporary bridges were built in parts of the island. However, after five years of rehabilitation, many roads are still damaged with potholes, unstable shoulders, and degraded asphalt.
Special Attention to the
Since the establishment of the Kalinago Territory in 1903, the Kalinago people have been persistently the most disadvantaged group in Dominica. CREAD reported in their National Development Strategy that the Kalinago community in 2009 only comprised 5% of the population, but 50% were impoverished. The people primarily live off subsistence agriculture and sell crafts to tourists.
The Kalinago community was especially affected by the hurricane as their reserve is on the island's east coastline where incoming hurricanes typically land. The community was left severely damaged by the brunt force of Maria. During my visit to the Kalinago Territory, I had the privilege of interviewing the Kalinago Chief Lorenzo Sanford to learn more about how the Kalinago people are rebuilding. Lorenzo Sandford described that they had lost 93% of their housing stock and their agricultural sector was utterly wiped out.
With the recent attention given to indigenous communities worldwide through the United Nations (UN) and other organizations, the Kalinago community has been able to leverage some support from international organizations to help them restore their community. With the provision of Article 39 of the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), indigenous communities can access financial and technical assistance from nations through international cooperation.
With help from the Eurepean Union (EU), World Bank, and Sustainable Solutions program, they built 245 homes through housing programs in the recovery process. When the World Bank reached out to the Kalinago community about what the housing program needed, the community wanted assistance in building individual capacity (e.g., skills, training, education, etc.).
When a home was complete, the once unskilled workers could take their learned skills and build more homes. The Youth Skills program, which has been around for a while, trains young people in many fields of work and also engages in the housing program to develop youth skills (e.g., building septic tanks, electrical work, and tiling). For individuals who have begun to rebuild their structures, the government with the help of the Kalinago Council reached out to these individuals to identify and provide materials they would need to design their homes more resiliently.
The World Bank drew particular attention to enhancing the agricultural industry for job creation with more resilient crops, particularly emphasizing the cassava crop. According to Table Debates, cassava is known to be a "survivor crop" because it can thrive at higher temperatures that can be caused by climate change. More research has been done on the potential for cassava to be a climate "smart" crop. Raji Pushpalatha and Byu Gangadharan explores how cassava is a food security crop for smallholder farmers because it can be cultivated in areas with limited rainfall, high temperatures, and low fertility soil. The World Bank and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have been helping the Kalinago farming community incorporate cassava growing more and expand the uses for the plant.
Image of Cassava Plant
The Ministry of Agriculture has reached out to Kalinago farmers to train and teach them how to grow the crop in a sustainable and quality-producing way so that they can provide crops to cassava processing facilities. With funding from the UNDP for equipment and machinery, constituents built three cassava processing plants with women running two .
Another crop that has been given special attention in the community is the vetiver. Historically the Kalinagos used this crop for land stabilization. The Kalinago Council has strategically planned to use this crop in areas with road construction, so that its deep roots can stabilize the soil to prevent landslides. Local craft makers can cut and harvest the crop to make beautiful mats for sale. Encouraging a healthy honey industry is another agenda item for the community by fostering a beekeeping community to make their own honey. Twenty-six farmers have gotten equipment, including bees, beehives, personal protective equipment, and smokers. The community wants to source its honey for local consumption, but intends to expand its scale to bottle, package, and sell it beyond its borders.