Natural disasters in the Caribbean amplify the vulnerability of the marginalized groups and fragile ecosystems by exposing the deep-rooted neo-colonial inequalities that frame the life of the majority of the populations living in the region. Natural disasters used to be defined with a clear distinction between natural hazards and human-caused (anthropogenic) or man-made disasters. A natural hazard is caused by nature and considered an uncontrollable phenomenon, which can include hurricanes, earthquakes, landslides, floods, droughts, and volcanic eruptions.
Yet, a complete separation between natural and human-caused disasters is no longer acceptable. Humanity is influencing the natural world in such a fashion that it is impacting the climate and the strength and frequency of natural disasters. Governments increase the severity of the impact of the natural hazards when they do not provide adequate relief, or when they use these events to displace or get rid of the poorest people or foreigners who inhabit the region. This was critically apparent on the island of St. Martin after Hurricane Luis, a category 4 hurricane, struck St. Martin on September 5th and 6th, 1995 and destroyed most of the island.
A comparison between the Dutch side, Sint Maarten and the French side, Saint-Martin shows the advent, impact, and aftermath of Hurricane Luis. The Dutch side thoroughly prepared: food and drinking water was stored in large quantities at fourteen ‘stormproof’ shelters on the island, but immediately after the hurricane, individuals started looting. Dutch Marines were called in to restore order – this halted the commencement of the recovery process. On the French side, recovery began immediately with homes and roads, but the richer neighborhoods were given clear priority while the main immigrant neighborhood, Cité Popo, was razed and foreigners’ houses were burned down. Saint-Martin side was also less affected compared to Sint Marteen. On the Dutch side 80% of the buildings were destroyed, and at least 7000 individuals became homeless, including undocumented migrants, especially once neighborhoods were razed. In Simpson Bay Lagoon, a harbor with a reputation of being the safest in the Caribbean, 1,300 boats sunk.
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