Tadzio Bervoets, interim director of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance writes in a letter to the editorial staff of Koninktijk.nu that it is no coincidence that his native Sint Maarten has one of the highest COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita in the Caribbean.
The welfare of citizens has, according to the conservationist, always been secondary to the economic development of the island since the boom in tourism in the 1960s, relying on a model dictated by rapid economic growth at the expense of environmental and social security measures . Island communities must now emphasize economic, social and environmental sustainability as the guiding principle for survival, according to Bervoets.
One of the clearest and most obvious mistakes many of the islands in the Caribbean have made is too much dependence on cruise tourism and its industry. The Cruise Ship development model, even before this crisis, has proven to take insufficient account of the well-being of the island communities and natural resources, “which are essential to our sustainable development”, Bervoets said. “We should learn from this lesson and not allow multinational travel organizations to dictate the governmental and economic policies of the Caribbean. Mass tourism in the islands, combined with an unbridled and ill-planned idea to develop for development’s sake, has resulted in significant differences between different social strata,
To get out of this successfully, the Caribbean needs to change the way it is done. “Islands like Bonaire should learn from what is happening around them, and islands like Sint Maarten and Aruba should learn from their own experiences and relinquish an economic model that depends almost exclusively on lower-income mass tourism.”
Islands such as Bonaire and Saba are, according to Bervoets, better positioned to emerge from this crisis, although with scars, they are not broken. Islands such as Sint Maarten and Aruba, which have invested in significant infrastructure for their search for mass cruise tourism and budget-conscious travelers – often at the expense of the population and the environment – will struggle to successfully emerge from this crisis, Bervoets thinks.
According to him, this should be the time for a renewed focus on building the resilience of ‘our communities’: “combating deforestation, combating unsustainable coastal development, ensuring solid waste management and preventing that pollution penetrates our air and water. ”
These are all problems that exacerbate the negative health and economic effects of Caribbean residents in a post-pandemic reality, says Bervoets. “As Caribbean people, we cannot afford to lose our focus; the region should move away from the usual economic model that focuses on profit over people, further exacerbating income inequality. When we get out of our homes, we need to emphasize a more inclusive, sustainable future. After these crises, greater emphasis should finally be placed on the critical role that the three pillars of sustainable development should play in terms of resilience, especially given the potential new crises in what is expected to be an above-average hurricane season. ”
According to Bervoets, there should also be closer regional cooperation, cooperation that does not conform to the usual model defined by former colonial powers, who apparently consider a billion euro subsidy to southern European countries to be more important than providing aid to former colonies whose natural and human capital has ushered in their own economic development.
“There has not been a time in history calling for greater Caribbean unity than it is today as we emerge from one of the most existential crises of humanity. The old ways don’t work, and despite what we’re going through, we can’t function in isolation, nor depend on former colonial countries and Western or Eastern superpowers to support our development, that much is clear, ”says Bervoets.
But there are encouraging signs, he says. “The encouragement offered by seeing healing of our Caribbean environment should encourage us to promote and encourage further healing. Being isolated while united as a human race, united by our common human experience of being closed indoors, physically isolated from friends and family, should unite us as global citizens and focus on local solutions to our social problems. ”
Bervoets thinks that the Caribbean societies can no longer just work. He advocates using nature’s healing to enter a new phase of economic development, to finally be sustainable. Let’s continue that healing. Let us be guided by a more sustainable future. Let’s ensure that wild areas and the animals that live in them are preserved. Let’s manage our natural resources so that the goods and services they provide are enhanced and secured.
Let us ensure that the climate crisis is adequately addressed so that we can end poverty and hunger in the world. Let’s make sure we’re on the right side of history when we get out of our cocoons. That we rise from our confinement and create a renewed, holistic and revived Caribbean society. Happy World Environment Day! ”
interim director of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance