St Vincent Cousul General: “Make climate change an election issue”

By Lincoln DePradine

As Canadians prepare to vote in federal elections on October 21, citizens of Caribbean heritage have been urged to make climate change an issue to raise with the politicians seeking office to the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Andrea De Silva, Consul General Fitzgerald
Huggins and Rahul Singh of GlobalMedic Photos By: Achante Jones

Powerful hurricanes such as Dorian that hit The Bahamas this month, Maria that flattened Dominica in 2017 and Ivan that blasted Grenada in 2004, have been blamed on climate change.

“Climate change is real and is an existential problem for our small-island developing states,’’ Fitzgerald Huggins, the Toronto-based consul general for St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), said Sunday at a Vincentian event at Windies Restaurant in Scarborough.

Huggins was guest speaker at the formal launch of the of the Vincentian disaster preparedness committee, CARI-ON – Conducting Active Relief Impacting Our Nation. Earlier this year, two similar organizations, Grenada Disaster Preparedness Toronto (GDPT) and Security Awareness for Emergencies – Dominica (SAFE-D), were established in Toronto.

The mission of CARI-ON, which is led by Hayden Jones as chairperson, is to “take a proactive rather than a reactive stance to mitigate some of the inherent challenges faced during, and in the aftermath, of a disaster in SVG, via timely relief and to sustain essential functions’’.

Consul General Fitzgerald Huggins (4th from right) with committee members of CARI-ON. Photo by Achante Jones

The organization says “continuous contributions are needed year-round to ensure that necessary supplies could be on hand in the event of a disaster’’.

As part of Sunday’s CARI-ON launch, funds were raised to assist the Bahamian people, who are trying to recover from Hurricane Dorian that caused the death of at least 53, with more than 1,300 still missing – many likely swept to their deaths. Total property losses have been estimated at $7 billion.

Even as Sunday’s event was underway, Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Grenada, were being deluged with heavy rains and battling flood waters as a result of the passage of Tropical Storm Karen.

Climate change is also the focus of a summit was held this week at the United Nations in New York.

GDPT chairman Unison Joseph (2nd from left), with Grenada Consul General Derrick James and SVG Consul General Fitzgerald Huggins to Joseph’s left, flanked by members of CARI-ON. Photo by Achante Jones.

One of the speakers at the UN’s “Climate Action Summit’’ was Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. In a speech Monday, the 16-year-old accused world leaders of stealing her dreams and her childhood with their inaction on climate change.

Thunberg criticized UN member-states for caring more about money and “fairytales of eternal economic growth’’, instead of collapsing ecosystems, mass extinctions and people suffering due to climate change.

“I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean,’’ Thunberg said. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.’’

Consul General Huggins suggested that climate change ought to be an election campaign issue in next month’s national polls in Canada.

“A lot of you are Canadian citizens,’’ Huggins said. “When they come knocking on your doors looking for votes, ask them what is their program for climate change.’’

Huggins said Caribbean people themselves must do more “to take care of our own surrounding and our own environment’’ by refraining from practices such as sandmining and deforestation.

Among those supporting the launch of CARI-ON were representatives of the Caribbean consular corps, GlobalMedic, GDPT, SAFE-D and the Canadian Caribbean Disaster Relief Action (CCaDIRA).

“The efforts that we are making to put together committees in our Caribbean communities here in the GTA will be of benefit to the government and peoples of the Caribbean and will bring satisfaction to ourselves,’’ said Gideon Exeter, the Vincentian-born chair of CCaDIRA.

“Prior to now, there was no structured way in which we responded to relief efforts for the Caribbean. We no longer want to continue in that manner. These committees will serve to organize us much better to respond to the needs when any of the Caribbean countries is affected by a disaster,’’ he added.

“I urge all people of Caribbean descent to support these committees as they are formed. Let us put together structures that we can be happy with and plans in place so that when we are called upon to assist our region, we will be ready to do so.’’