The horror our brothers in the Bahamas experienced this week with Hurricane Dorian must serve as a new and powerful reminder to all Caribbeans that those hurricanes we have lived with for centuries are now more powerful and frequent and we must prepare for them.
Dorian battered the Bahamas from Monday to Tuesday for about 36 hours with sustained winds of 175 miles and gusts of up to 220. It also brought heavy rains that, according to satellite images, flooded up to 60percent of the Caribbean island. The magnitude of the destruction, the death toll and the scale of the humanitarian crisis are just beginning to be known.
Already weakened but still extremely powerful, this destructive phenomenon now points to the east coast of the United States. It is, under almost any standard, one of the most powerful hurricanes in history. For years, the scientific community has been warning us that, due to climate change, more active and intense hurricane seasons awaited us. We are already experiencing that.
Science explains it in a relatively simple way. One of the consequences of climate change is an increase in sea temperature. Hurricanes are born and get their strength from the heat of the sea. Hence the dangerous equation: the hotter the sea, the more frequent and powerful the hurricanes will be. The scientific community, through entities such as the United Nations and the Puerto RicoClimate Change Council, warned that due to global warming in the not too distant future we will even see these phenomena out of what is now known as hurricane season.
As alarming as it may sound, this situation can only be described for what it is: a risk for all the communities that live in the Caribbean. However, one of the distinctive features of humanity is the capacity to adapt to environments, no matter how extreme they may be. In that sense, we Caribbeans have the tools to adapt to this situation.
There are ways to withstand hurricanes no matter how strong they may be. The sad thing is that right now in Puerto Rico we lack a long-term government plan to make our island resistant to these powerful hurricanes. We should understand that preparing for a different and more hostile environment is a matter of Life or death.
We need a strategic and comprehensive plan that includes, for example, the development of independent power grids, underground networks and energy production where it is consumed, so as not to affect transmission in the event of a natural disaster.
We also need to stop coastal construction and relocate thousands of families living in flood-prone areas. We have to establish building codes that consider the possibility of more intense hurricanes and plans to manage this challenge among a large number of people living in vulnerable structures.
These are not easy measures, nor can they be implemented overnight. They are long-term measures that should ideally be based on a commitment between all political forces, private industry organizations and the academia. The fact that they are long-term measures does not mean that it can be postponed.
Climate change is no longer a threat, but a reality that we saw three years ago with Matthew and Harvey, two years ago with Irma and María and these days with Dorian. We cannot underestimate the extent of this situation. The viability of Puerto Rico as a habitable island is at stake and we cannot keep on waiting. It is time to take action.