Decolonizing Disaster Risk Reduction: An analysis of the recovery efforts of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the British Virgin Islands after Hurricanes Irma and Maria

Authors: Charlie Overton*,
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Development
Keywords: DRR, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Resilience Building, Neocolonialism
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Caribbean is marked by centuries of exploitation and uneven development resulting from colonialism. There have been calls for transformation from academics and policy makers alike to properly address the structural inequalities that keep Low to Medium Income (LMI) and other populations vulnerable to hazards. This paper explores how transformative Caribbean governments and international organisations are in their DRR and long-term development plans following disasters. To achieve this, I conducted a discourse analysis of recovery plans pertaining to the island territories of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the British Virgin Islands, some of the worst hit territories following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The findings include that these governments are unable to address structural vulnerabilities in recovery plans, because the plans are written to receive funding from wealthier governments, who benefit from the status quo. Furthermore, often the donor nations are former or current colonisers which only perpetuates a modern colonial power relationship. This paper proposes recommendations such as focusing on the empowerment of the most vulnerable people at the local level, build social equity through community-led policies and projects, and ensure that there is justice for the legacies of colonialism in future recovery initiatives. This effort should aim to make the Caribbean region and its people self-reliant following disasters and be led by wealthier nations like the US and UK as a form of reparations for the negative effects of colonial legacy.

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