The Caribbean is one of the most hazard prone regions in the world

The Caribbean is one of the most hazard prone regions in the world for four principal reasons.

1. The islands of the Caribbean are exposed to a diverse set of natural hazards including: earthquakes, hurricanes, torrential rainfall, floods, landslides, tsunamis, volcanoes, and now the predicted negative effects of climate change.

2. The built structures are exposed to a diverse set of progressive weakening factors, which can render a newly constructed building vulnerable to damage from natural hazards.  The progressive weakening factors include:

  • Corrosion, which damages steel reinforcement, steel connectors, and steel door and window hardware;
  • Moisture penetration of timber, masonry, and concrete elements;
  • Insect damage to timber frames and finishes;
  • Biological degradation of timber and other organic building materials;
  • Sunlight’s ultra-violet rays, which damage plastic plumbing and electrical pipes;
  • Heat, which damages plastic pipes and asphaltic based roof covering materials;
  • High sulfate volcanic soils which damage concrete; and
  • Air pollution which damages concrete.

3. A Caribbean island typically has only one referral hospital, one major highway, one air and sea port, one electrical power station, one wired telephone service, and one or two wireless communications services.   When a Caribbean island is impacted by a major natural hazard, it normally becomes a national disaster.  Therefore, the Caribbean is one region of the earth where building should be done properly.

4. Building standards are generally not enforced, and Caribbean political leaders appear disinterested in the effective enforcement of adequate building standards.

If an island’s public infrastructure becomes severely damaged, then the national economy may be disrupted for a relatively brief period while the damage is repaired, or until alternate services are provided.  However, when the majority of houses are severely damaged, then the national economy may stall for an extended period as public and private sector employees either try to find, support and shelter their families, or are too traumatised by their personal losses and require assistance themselves.  Therefore, houses should be built properly.

While explaining the unplanned expenditure of BD$37M to repair the houses damaged by tropical storm Tomas in 2010, Barbados’ Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, made the following observation: “I have to confess that I was flabbergasted at the fragility of the housing accommodation in Barbados.” [1]

When residential construction in the Caribbean is examined by natural hazards, their fragility is normally exposed.  Post-disaster structural surveys typically conclude that the majority of structural damage, and the resultant misery could have been avoided, had the houses been better constructed at very little to no additional cost.  This unnecessary fragility is what this proposal seeks to address in some of the most vulnerable Caribbean islands.

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