General Wesley Clarke came to the Cayman Islands with a word of warning.
He echoed the tone of the Cayman Business Outlook 2005 at the Westin Casuarina Resort yesterday in saying that the country has a lot of work to do before it can recover from the effects of Hurricane Ivan.
The retired United States general and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander was one of the guest speakers at the conference titled ‘Post Ivan: Building a Better Cayman.’
‘The easy part is over,’ he said. ‘That’s the part when you picked yourself up by the bootstraps and did what needed to be done in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Now comes the difficult part.’
Other speakers at the second annual conference, which Fidelity Group hosted, included Governor Bruce Dinwiddy, Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush, newly appointed Director of Tourism Pilar Bush, risk management researcher Robert Muir-Wood, psychiatrist Dr. David Waltos, and Fidelity Group Chairman and CEO Anwer Sunderji.
Like the speakers before and after him, General Clarke indicated that along with the devastation Ivan brought, the hurricane also provided opportunity.
‘You’re at the point right now where the going is really difficult,’ he said. ‘But now is the time to do it right, to put in place the necessary structures so that you don’t get caught again like you did with Ivan.’
General Clarke was last here in September, shortly after the storm.
‘It looked exactly like Bosnia – with palm trees,’ he said of Cayman’s landscape then. ‘Everyone had that stunned look like ‘how are we going to get through this?”
After arriving on Tuesday, General Clarke said he was impressed at how recovery has progressed. ‘You have all pulled together and done an incredible job. It’s pretty remarkable.’
Mr. Clarke said leadership, from both governmental and private sector levels, was essential in the continued recovery, as was self-sufficiency.
‘You can’t rely on others,’ he said, noting that other countries are not inclined to provide aid because they view Cayman as ‘very, very privileged.’
Warning it is inevitable for trouble to happen again, he urged Cayman’s leaders to be prepared.
Mr. Clark said global warming, a reality he said few people dispute, had created an environment where there was more energy in the atmosphere, and a higher chance for hurricanes in the future.
Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer for Risk Management Solutions Limited in London, a company that develops natural catastrophe risk models, also spoke about Cayman’s hurricane risk.
Mr. Muir-Wood said in a CI Government commissioned 1994 report that the Cayman Islands were vulnerable to high intensity hurricanes.
‘So nothing is really surprising about what happened with Ivan,’ he said.
Mr. Muir-Wood said Grand Cayman is on the edge of a zone known as a Category 5 hurricane ‘hot-spot’ because it had some of the warmest waters in the Caribbean. ‘The area is known as a hurricane stoker,’ he said.
Acknowledging that global warming could cause more intense hurricanes, Mr. Muir-Wood pointed out that the number of hurricanes was up 25 percent cent since1995. Noting that the frequency rates are similar to that of the 1950s, he also indicated it could just be a periodic cycle of increased hurricane activity.
Regardless, Mr. Muir-Wood said there were many lessons to be learned from Ivan, especially for the insurance industry.
In the future, Mr. Muir-Wood said residents can expect insurers to identify areas of Grand Cayman that are subject to surge waves, as well as to surge floods.
The former would include all coastal areas except those within the North Sound. The latter would likely include an area beginning at the northern end of Seven Mile Beach and including all of the land south and east to Savannah, except for a small section at the southwest tip of the island.
Mr. Muir-Wood said the Cayman Islands should consider changing it building codes, including no longer basing it on the South Florida Building Code.
‘That code is probably not sufficiently conservative for Cayman’s hazard environment,’ he said, adding that perhaps the country should adopt standards like the US territory of Guam, which designs buildings to withstand sustained winds of 170 mph.
Noting that insurance costs will go up, Mr. Muir-Wood said the insurance industry should get creative in offering incentives for those who introduce features that mitigate risk.
He said individuals also need to be responsible by doing things like getting their belongings out of the way of an approaching storm, and moving their cars to higher ground.
From a building standpoint, he said there probably should be no more unprotected beachfront homes built and no single-storey residences in possible flood zones, which he said could become death traps in a severe storm.
Mr. Muir-Wood also said the government should encourage stilted properties, and remind people that they are living in a flood zone. ‘Other countries in the world are (flood zones), and they have learned to cope with it.’
Dr. David Waltos, a psychiatrist from Baltimore, Maryland, repeated what others have said; that Cayman is moving toward a different reality, and that things will not be the same in the future.
Phases of recovery
He said people go through phases of personal recovery. Right now, Cayman residents can be expected to go through the inventory phase. ‘It’s when the reality of losses sets in, and when sometimes delusion sets in.’
The process is normal, but not easy, he said. ‘Psychological wounds take time to heal.’
Dr. Waltos, who had been to Cayman last year, said he was amazed by the destruction, and equally amazed by the construction that has already taken place in the recover effort.
He told the story of the taxi ride he had earlier in his stay. ‘The cabbie was saying he thought things were going pretty well, considering.
‘I asked him if he wanted to wait for me while I made a stop. He said things were pretty slow and there weren’t a lot of tourists, so he would let one of the other drivers get some business. I thought it was quite remarkable, and if his attitude is at all indicative of the overall attitude here, I’d say you’re all well on the way to recovery.’
Brett Hill, President of Fidelity Bank Cayman, said he was pleased with the conference. ‘We had great speakers and a great turn out,’ he said. ‘We wanted the conference to appeal to a wide cross-section of people, not just to the business community. I think we had something for everyone here.’