economics: The Grenada experience
Grenadians are yet
to come out of the nightmare of Ivan, the terrible storm that roared through
the Caribbean causing death, destruction and despair not witnessed or
experienced for several decades. It was a reminder of the one- Caribbean
reality, even as the scale of the damage to Grenada masks that of Jamaica
and Cuba, the citizens of both of which consider that some divine
intervention averted even greater damage as the hurricane made sudden
last-minute changes of direction from its feared deadly path.
The reports of
those who have seen the actual damage all suggest that no picture or
television shots convey the full extent of the horror. Understandably, most
of the pictures are from the areas including and surrounding the capital
city, St George's, where the more sturdy medium and high-cost housing
exists. The rural areas in which the nutmeg plantations are located have
still not been shown to the world, and like a wake, the tendency is that the
survivors will soon be left on their own as everyone else goes on with their
own lives. We in the Caribbean have a reason and a duty to ensure that this
does not happen.
Soul sisters and brothers
Grenada is close to
the hearts of many Guyanese. The late President Hoyte was an outstanding
teacher in that country for years, the PPP and the WPA found refuge and
comfort from the Bishop regime for its entire but abruptly-ended life.
Ironically it was the country in which I met Miles Fitzpatrick, Clive Thomas
and Walter Rodney. It was a country that had experienced an eccentric
dictator, but managed to avoid the bitterness that cried out for revenge.
When I first arrived there in 1978 to work with Coopers & Lybrand, I was
shocked to learn that 'Dr' was not part of the name of persons in that
profession, that Grenadian hospitality was on par with that of Guyanese,
that it was a country that as one friend familiar with the island describes
as possessing the combined beauty of St Lucia and Jamaica.
Along with scores
of other Guyanese, including Eddie Dewar, Clairmont Kirton, Freddie Kissoon,
Valerie Holder and Lou Bone, I found the Grenadians a people who saw
themselves as they saw us - as West Indians first and last. They did not
envy the positions of seniority enjoyed by non-Grenadians in the Maurice
Bishop government and sought to make full use of the skills available.
Bernard Coard, now a prisoner for his part in the death of Bishop and an
undetermined number of other Grenadians, was always willing to learn from
the likes of Omar Davies, now Finance Minister of Jamaica, and Dr Norman
Girvan of the University of the West Indies, regular visitors to that
country. With Bernard La Corbiniere of St Lucia as the Budget Officer and a
number of sector specialists helping to move the country forward socially
and economically, and with Grenada readmitted to the Caribbean fold after
expulsion arising from the overthrow of Gairy, many hoped that that small
but beautiful country would be the model for the rest of the Caribbean. It
was after all, a world which had tasted freedom in places as far apart as
Iran and Nicaragua with the fall of the dictatorships of the Shah and
I have visited
Grenada a number of times since then, first to make up numbers in a Guyanese
contingent of golfers for an inter-club competition, and on another occasion
to give a talk on the challenges in the accounting profession in the
post-Enron world. Most co-incidentally, I was due to present a paper on
Corporate Governance in that country later this month, an event which has
now given way to the emergencies of Ivan.
For us to
understand the destruction and devastation, we would have to bring ourselves
to appreciate Guyana with its sugar and rice crops all destroyed; almost all
the houses in Demerara, Berbice and the more densely populated areas of
Essequibo damaged or flattened; the poultry and cattle industry gone along
with the instruments of civilization such as the legal system, the schools
and the hospitals out of operations. That is beyond imagination. And even
for those with exceptional imagination, how does a 'Mudhead' from natural
disaster-free Guyana understand the horror, fear and panic of a hurricane -
imagine winds travelling at 160 mph accompanied by heavy and torrential
rains for what appears to be eternity?
I understand from
one of the officials who attended the recent Heads of Government of the
Caribbean countries convened to assess the effects of Ivan on the member
territories, the leaders from the other countries which had felt some of the
effects of Ivan chose not to speak after they heard the report from the
Grenada delegation. How do you tell a man who has just lost his house that
you have lost your handkerchief?
Here are some of
the more direct, tangible and measurable costs of the damage in Grenada.
Ninety per cent of
the housing stock damaged or destroyed. Of the sturdier houses, 50% had
their roofs substantially damaged, their walls cracked or their foundations
compromised. In some of the squatting areas, the destruction was 100 per
cent, while in the north of the island which experienced only 'collateral'
damage, the loss was substantially lower. Rough estimates put the cost of
replacement at close to US$2B. Given that a number of these homes would have
been under/uninsured, the cost will have to be borne by the owners.
Most of the eighty
schools would have been destroyed, including buildings, furniture and
records. It is estimated that the cost of rebuilding would be about US$72M.
Many if not most of these schools would not become operational for several
months, placing an additional challenge on parents, police and the social
services when they themselves have been severely incapacitated.
The rebuilding of
hospitals is estimated to cost about US$2M, while the reconstruction of
roads and bridges, some of which were washed into the sea by the rains or
swallowed up by the colossal waves will cost some US$4M.
Hotels and other
physical infrastructure serving the tourism industry have received
significant damage, ruling out the 2004 winter season and some of 2005 also
as tourists plan their vacation some time in advance.
Rural Grenada still
depends largely on its cocoa and nutmeg for which that country has an
enviable reputation, reflected in the premium which they command on the
world market. Fig, root and other food crops are local, and form a
significant part of their Grenadian diet. Much of these have been wiped out,
and with the maturity of the nutmeg tree being over seven years, the road to
agricultural recovery will be a long and painful one. It is estimated that
the agriculture industry urgently requires over US$12M for the
reconstruction effort to take shape.
The private sector
and the shops will need to inject new working capital to replace goods that
were destroyed by the rains and sadly, the unfortunate looting that followed
the hurricane. As we saw with Gilbert in Jamaica, looting is now a
by-product of hurricanes in the Caribbean. Remember the words of the
calypso: "You see me TV, is Gilbert gimme."
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