CNS- As a new hurricane season approaches Barbudan campaigners say there is little sign of relief funds from the 2017 hurricanes reaching Barbuda – and they accuse the government in its larger neighbour Antigua of exploiting the crisis to sell their land to developers such as actor Robert Di Niro.
At last week’s meetring of Commonwealth leaders in London, they called on prime minister Gaston Browne to account for an estmatede $50 million of donations from development banks and allied countries.
The island lost 90 pecent of its buildings in the storm. More than half of the 1,700 residents evacuated have returned, according to Barbudan MP Trevor Walker. Yet only around a quarter of homes have electricity and running water. Schools and council buildings have not been rebuilt.
“We are very disappointed because it is almost seven months after the hurricane and… we just can’t see where that money has been spent,” Walker told Climate Home News. “We are calling on those donors to ask the government to give an account.”
Liza Thomas, who was born in Britain and visits her father’s homeland Barbuda regularly, was among campaigners granted an audience with Browne at the conference.
“We were grateful that he listened to us,” said Thomas, “but we were not able to pin him down to any actions.” Browne reiterated promises to publish accounts of how relief funds were spent, without committing to a date, she said.
At the same time as demanding accountability, Barbudans are locked in an ideological battle with Browne’s administration over land ownership. Since emancipation from slavery, the islanders have operated a system of communal land rights.
Browne wants to open up the island up to foreign investment, notably the Paradise Beachfront developmnet backed by actor Robert De Niro. To facilitate that, his government is repealing the 2007 Barbuda Land Act.
“Those developments are not in our interest. They haven’t even consulted us and they want to give a lease of 200 years to Robert De Niro,” said Walker. “Our communal land ownership that we have been practicing for more than 300 years, for the government to try to change that without consulting us is unacceptable.”
Walker met with two barristers in London to discuss a legal challenge to the government’s plan, he said.
Tropical storms are forecast to get more intense and wet with global warming, raising the risk of destruction for small island states.
James Frank, a native Barbudan who moved to the UK when he was 10, said Barbuda needed a sea wall and better hurricane defences. “I grew up with hurricanes, they were mild compared to the last one, Irma,” he told CHN at the demonstration. “Climate change has made our hurricanes worse. Before, they were very easy to handle – shutting everything down and boarding everything up.”