Building back better’ after a disaster intuitively makes sense, but it is challenging and requires a deep understanding of the causes of disaster, recovery processes and future climate and other risks. Critically, it requires high levels of commitment from policymakers and technical staff in national governments, from the international aid agencies and donors supporting recovery, and from communities already engaged in recovery.
This briefing paper highlights how lessons from history and past recovery can inform decisions around ‘building back better’ after hurricanes Irma and Maria. These two Category 5 hurricanes caused total losses estimated at US$130 billion. Although the countries and communities most affected will need years to recover, decisions and actions that are taken in the short term, such as repairs to housing, will have repercussions for long-term resilience.
While disasters are a common feature of the Caribbean, there has not been much serious reflection on the types of action needed for long-term resilience. Compounding this are the looming effects of climate change. Sea-level rise, in particular, is a huge problem for the Caribbean, but we are also likely to see more Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the future.