From paradise to hell – UN chief says Barbuda devastation unparalleled

Secretary-General António Guterres at a joint press conference with the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

“I have been in areas torn by conflict. In my own country, I have seen earthquakes, I’ve seen storms…I have never seen such a high-level of devastation like the one that I witnessed in Barbuda,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said.

Guterres visited Barbuda on Saturday to see the devastation of Hurricane Irma firsthand. He also met with Barbudans there and those staying in shelters in Antigua.

UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

At a press conference with Prime Minister Gaston Browne Saturday afternoon, the UN chief said the world needed to preserve its paradises and make climate action its top priority.

“(I saw) how a storm of this magnitude can transform a prardise into hell. That’s what I felt.”

Guterres noted that around the world there is a trend of climate change displacing populations, and said Barbuda was no exception. He pointed to Sahel (the geographic area between the Sahara and Sudan region in Africa) where decades of drought have forced people into Europe.

“We see the people that had to be evacuated from Barbuda, and we see other storms forcing people to move in other parts of the world,” Guterres added.
“Climate change is becoming…one of the central causes of forced displacement in the world. It is one more reason to do everything possible to stop this movement and to make climate action a strong priority of the whole international community.”

The Secretary General said he was not satisfied with the international response to the storm-caused devastation in the Caribbean and that was a mjor reason for his trip – to bring awareness.

“But I know that there is a commitment, there is an interest, there is a growing recognition of the need to act and I am very hopeful…”

UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Agreeing with an earlier call by PM Browne for better financing options for small island states though they may be considered “midddle or high income countries,” Guterres said he hoped that this topic will be discussed in the next meeting of the Boards of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“…Clearly , the countries of the Caribbean with the vulnerabilities that have been described, can justify forms of innovative financing allowing to take into account not only the impact of the storms but the high level of debt, all the other forms of vulnerabilities that their dimension naturally creates,” Guterres said.

Guterres is in Dominica today on a similar mission.

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