How communal loans are helping Antigua and Barbuda brace for hurricanes

Source(s): United Nations Environment Programme
Hurricane Florence seen from Space in September 2018
NASA Johnson / flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Caribbean island of Barbuda still bears the battle scars of its most brutal encounter with climate change. In 2017, Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 leviathan of unprecedented power, roared across its pristine turquoise waters.

The island’s only storm shelter collapsed, with 300 people hiding inside. Around 95 per cent of Barbuda’s buildings were wrecked, including homes, schools and critical infrastructure.

“I have just witnessed a level of devastation that I have never seen in my life,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres following a visit to the island.

Around 50km to the south lies Antigua, Barbuda's twin in the sovereign island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. As the skies cleared and the world began to comprehend Irma's ferocity, a chilling question arose – could Antigua, with a population 50 times that of Barbuda, face the same fate?

“I still get goose pimples thinking about it,” said Diann Black-Layne, the Director of the country’s Department of Environment. “We’d never experienced anything like it. It was traumatic.”

As climate change feeds increasingly frequent hurricanes in the Caribbean, the immediate concern for many in Antigua is accessing the finance needed to toughen their homes. Traditional home insurance is practically out of reach due to escalating climate risks.

Addressing this, the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Environment has been working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to roll out a revolving loans programme, which allows residents to obtain low-interest loans for hurricane-proofing their homes. Once repaid, the funds assist another family, perpetuating a cycle of community resilience.

Black-Layne speaks passionately about the project, saying it has helped residents reinforce roofs, install hurricane shutters, buy rainwater storage tanks and outfit their homes with solar panels.

“It offers the homeowner a very long period of time to pay back the loan, and they don’t have to provide collateral,” said Black-Layne. “The default rate is very low in this community-run system.”


The project has targeted first responders, like police and firefighters, who are obligated to continue working during hurricanes, keeping the country afloat while everyone else takes refuge in their homes.

Randy Best, a father-of-three and an employee of the National Housing Development Company, used his US$13,000 loan to install a solar panel system on his roof, accompanied by a battery system to store power. When electricity is shut down during hurricanes in Antigua, Best still has power.

He says the hardening of his home also serves the wider community. "Let's say that your neighbour is not able to get a loan just yet. The fact you are resilient means you're in a position to assist them.”

The latest science shows that climate change is accelerating faster than previously thought, and the need for reliable adaptation solutions has never been more urgent, especially in the developing world, where communities are generally more vulnerable to climate shocks. According to UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report, the current adaptation finance flows to developing countries are 5-10 times below estimated needs, which are around US$160-340 billion by 2030 and US$315-565 billion by 2050.

The main climate change impacts affecting the Caribbean nations, most of which are small island developing states, include rising sea levels, coral reef degradation, and increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes. For these countries, storm damages cost around 17 per cent of their gross domestic product every year.

Considering Antigua and Barbuda only produces around 0.002 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, this raises the question of climate justice and of whom exactly should be paying for the loss and damages from hurricanes in these small island developing states.

As this global discussion over loss and damage funding plays out in the international arena, intergovernmental organizations like UNEP are stepping up support to communities on the ground.

So far, the UNEP-led housing project has granted 66 loans totalling US$1.6 million. The funding for the loan scheme comes from a combination of domestic sources and three international climate adaptation projects: one funded by the Green Climate Fund, one by the Global Environment Facility and another by the Adaptation Fund. The loan scheme has been viewed as a flagship example of how to design multiple internationally-funded projects with a high level of complementarity and coherence.

Seymour Robins is a father of two and a police officer. The scheme loaned Robins around US$26,000, an amount he used to purchase solar panels, rainwater tanks, and hurricane shutters that protect windows from projectiles.

Robins believes the hurricane shutters have had the most profound impact. "Now I’ve got the shutters, I feel way more comfortable at my home. I feel more secure.

“I would definitely recommend the fund,” he added. This is something that should be replicated across Caribbean countries.”

Women make up around 67 per cent of the beneficiaries of the revolving loan programme due to the way in which the project prioritized female-headed households. Evette Henry, a firefighter and a mother of two, received a loan of US$37,000.

One of her key purchases was a rainwater harvesting tank, a crucial asset in the arid climate of Antigua. With the island relying heavily on stored and pumped water, this tank not only ensures her family has a reliable water supply during the dry season but also during hurricanes when the water supply is shut off or contaminated by floodwater.

Jessica Troni, Head of the Climate Change Adaptation Unit at UNEP – who helped the national government launch the loan programme – explains another vital benefit of the revolving loans.

“With this innovative model, we’ve seen how a powerful combination of international finance with local initiative can build resilience among some of the most climate-threatened communities in the world,” said Troni. “The trick is now about upscaling and expanding these schemes to support even more people in the years to come. That’s what we’re working towards.”

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Hazards Cyclone
Country and region Antigua and Barbuda
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