Working as a QS in the Caribbean Andrew Hemsley is well placed to observe the reaction in the region to Haiti's plight since the earthquake
Here in the Caribbean the devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti is the top news story not only because of the number of deaths and the magnitude of the damage but because it could have happened to any of the islands. It’s like a close friend being in a car accident – it suddenly makes you feel mortal.
The response here has been subtly different from that in the UK. For example there has been little mention about the building collapses being due to the lack of any building codes enforcing earthquake-resistant construction, possibly because building codes are thin on the ground in any of the Caribbean countries.
Huge efforts are being made by organisations and individuals across the Caribbean to raise money and send support but people are aware and grateful that aid is also coming from the US, UK and elsewhere as the Caribbean cannot provide all that is required.
Barbados, for instance, which is where I live, is playing its part in the government’s plan to send a field hospital by mounting charity fund-raisers and collections but with a population of 275,000 against Haiti’s 9 million, there are limitations on what it can achieve.
There are only a few countries which are anywhere near Haiti’s size with most Caribbean countries having the population of a small town or village in the UK
While funds are being raised throughout the Caribbean, there is an almost unspoken undercurrent that because of Haiti’s reputation for corruption, people would rather send food or resources than money.
There is also concern being expressed here that those countries providing financial aid will need to monitor carefully how it is spent.
In providing aid, the rest of the world needs to be sensitive to local feelings. The news that the US has taken over the management of the air traffic control at Haiti’s airport was received without much debate, but when one of their first decisions was to ban a fact-finding mission by the prime ministers of Barbados and Jamaica on behalf of CARICOM (the Caribbean equivalent of the EU) it did not go down well.
Resources are an issue here. There are only a few countries which are anywhere near Haiti’s size with most Caribbean countries having the population of a small town or village in the UK.
Firms here have a valuable input to make as they know how to design for the climate, how to best use local materials
Each of the larger countries will have its own problems; Cuba because the US may limit its contribution or ban it from contributing entirely because of their historical political disagreement; Jamaica because of its economic problems evidenced by a recent agreement for IMF support.
While construction firms and consultancies across the Caribbean are willing to help with the reconstruction, international projects are a small part of what they do. They will therefore probably not be there initially pitching for work.
This does not mean that the task of rebuilding should, however, fall solely on those from outside the Caribbean. Firms here have a valuable input to make as they know how to design for the climate, how to best use local materials and how to get the best from a workforce which is not as skilled as that in the developed world.
Andrew Hemsley works for Ardent Ltd in Barbados and used to be head of specialist services at Cyril Sweett