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6 August, 2003
FEATURE ADDRESS FOR THE LAUNCHING OF THE NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT STRATEGY

Mr. Chairman, Hon. Acting Prime Minister and Members of Cabinet, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Today I shall be talking about a very unusual subject. I shall be talking about what is right with Dominica. We love to talk about what is wrong with Dominica and in fact nowadays we tend to ridicule anyone who suggests that there is anything right with this island on which we live. But before that, I want to begin with an ancient fable told by the Greek storyteller Aesop.

Aoesop's fable tells of a dog that was walking across a bridge with a juicy ham bone in his mouth. When he gets to the middle of the bridge he looks down into the clear smoothly flowing water and there he sees what he believes to be another dog with a ham bone even bigger and juicier than the one he has in his mouth. Not satisfied with what he has he opens his mouth and makes a grab for the hambone that he thinks he sees on the water below him. His own real bone falls into the river and is swept away and he is left biting at nothing but the reflection of what he once possessed.

Sometimes I think that we in Dominica run the risk of being like this, because we do not realize and do not make the best use of what we have, while we complain, grumble and yearn for an unobtainable mirage that is somewhere in the far beyond.

Keeping this in mind, I want to move to a true story, a piece of history in fact, that also reflects on the predicament that we face.

Almost seventy years ago, when Dominica was experiencing an economic situation similar to what we are experiencing today, there was a mood of defeatism, fatalism and despair across the country.

The lime industry, which had been the hope and pride of Dominica, fell apart from 1921. In 1922 a one-man commission of enquiry, E.L.F. Wood (later Lord Halifax), forecast for Dominica 'very severe financial depression and even economic collapse', but like so many others since then, he could suggest no remedy.

In 1925 strict economic measures were put in place and negotiations were begun with Canada to open trade in new diversified crops between Dominica and that country. Hopes were again raised.

But then in 1928 a hurricane hit Dominica.

In 1929 there was the Wall Street Crash on the money markets in New York, which plunged the world into global economic depression.

The following year, 1930, Dominica was hit by yet another hurricane even more powerful than that of 1928. During the 1930s many farmers who had taken out loans from the government Loan Board to revive their estates, could not pay back and had to forfeit their lands or sell them for a song. There was no IMF or European Union in those days to bail the island out.

And yet in the midst of all of this, in 1936, when many people thought that Dominica was done for, the now defunct Dominica Tribune newspaper, owned by the Dominican patriot Cecil Rawle, published an article with the headline:

'What is Right With Dominica'.

Today - sixty-seven years later - I want to repeat that statement and make it the theme of my address. What is right with Dominica - and how can we take what is right with Dominica and enhance it and manage it for the improvement of the quality of life of all our people.

At the top of the list of what is right with Dominica, is our environment. We take it for granted. We do not count it among our advantages. But thanks to a vibrant natural environment, Dominicans are still able to eat and survive, to drink fresh water while the world fights over water, to plant in moist fertile soils while deserts stretch their fingers across the plains of Africa, to dive into clear pools while lakes dry up in the wastes of Kurdistan and to draw nets of fish onto our shores while the people of Haiti scrape their silted up lagoons for a few sprats. We may take it all for granted, but without this bounty things would be much worse.

It is therefore critical that all efforts be made to protect the natural environment that continues to be the provider and saviour of the country.

But I am not yet finished with the 1930s. During that decade, protests, riots and strikes shook the Caribbean. The British colonial government realized that something had to be done. It sent out a commission of enquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Moyne to the British West Indies to investigate conditions and make recommendations for development. The outcome of the Moyne Commission was a turning point for the West Indies and here in Dominica today we still use much of the infrastructure that it recommended and provided.

In its report on Dominica the commission concluded:

"Of all the British West Indian islands Dominica presents the most striking contrast between the great poverty of a large proportion of the population and the beauty and fertility of the island."

The island was - and some would say, still is a paradox - here there is unfulfilled potential as we sit idle in the midst of plenty. That is the biggest tragedy of Dominica because we need not be in the situation that we are in today. Had we grasped the many opportunities open to us over the last four decades we could have built on the enviable situation that Dominica held in the Caribbean at the beginning of the 1960s.

Our agricultural production was taking off, limes, citrus, coconuts and bananas. Our first proper hotels were being built for our first serious steps into the regional tourism industry. Yet it is still not too late to take advantage of what is right with Dominica, but we do not have much time left to waste.

The National Environment Management Strategy that we are launching today is a vehicle for us to assess the resources that we have available to us. It will in effect be compiling a list of what is right with Dominica and organizing how these resources can be managed by all the agencies involved in the best possible way.

The NEMS is an overall strategy that will guide the decisions and actions of all groups and individuals in Dominica regarding the use of cultural and natural resources. If this is to happen all organizations must work together. In this way, it is hoped, there will be less duplication of effort, less conflict of activities and less wastage of already limited resources. These are high hopes indeed. Some would say that in our fractious society these are vain hopes and it can never succeed. But we must attempt this if we are to survive.

In spite of years of public education on the matter, many people still fail to see the economic advantage of a waterfall, a national park, an historic building or a protected watershed. These are some of the things that are right with Dominica. But there are still those who are not convinced.

Our economists themselves need to be more creative in their scope when assessing the value of what we have and how we can use it, manage it, and maintain it to our advantage. For those who can only see things in terms of dollar bills let me try a new angle:

Let us take the Cabrits National Park as an example: 260 acres of land in a much larger area of marine park zone. Each acre of land would probably valued at $100,000, much more if we were valuing it by the square foot. As a whole this land area would be worth conservatively $26 million. Value is added to this piece of real estate because it has over 500 years of history associated with it. It has what would be called a selling point. That would be worth say $5 million at least. The going price for large, historic 18th century iron cannons is in the region of $200,000. There are some 20 of these cannons at the Cabrits. That gives a total for cannons of another $4 million. To build fortifications like the ones on the Cabrits today would call for skilled workmanship and materials to the tune of over $10 million. Add it all together and we have an asset, a capital holding worth roughly $45 million or more. Now you can ask yourselves how do we maximize that $45 million dollar advantage of history, nature and marine resources, by managing it in a sustainable manner that will bring long term benefits to our people.

An allocation of EU funding is going to the Cabrits. We hope that it will be carefully and sensibly used. This is the sort of thing that would be of concern to the NEMS strategy. There are other sites of this nature in private hands, old sugar mills and plantation houses that have the potential to do things that are right for Dominica.

Just across the bay at Portsmouth, we have the Indian River. Here is a natural resource that has been providing employment for successive numbers of youth of Portsmouth for over 30 years. We did not have to construct a factory shed or industrial park to provide this employment. It was naturally provided for us to use. It was something that was right with Dominica. So what are we doing to ensure that it will continue to provide sustainable employment for future generations? But now there are plans afoot for a temporary garbage holding point to be put up the Indian River near Borne. This I should think would be an area of concern for the NEM strategy.

There are several other concerns such as the degradation of land by over intensive use in the Carib Territory. The maintenance of levels of river flow around the island; The attitude to rubbish in this country where in spite of laws in place it is flung out of the windows of passenger buses, it is left on our beaches and riversides after bank holiday picnics, it is dumped into ravines with an attitude of out of site out of mind. We have a land that is generally clean and we must try as much as possible to keep it that way. This will be an area of challenge for the NEM strategy.

The list is long and I do not intend to be exhaustive here. There is much that is right with Dominica but we have to apply ourselves to keep it so and thereby reap its benefits. A master plan, an overall management strategy for the environment of our country is an important move and I encourage everyone to give it your fullest support.

When you have a spare moment, perhaps as you drift to sleep tonight, make a list in your head of those things that are right with Dominica and then think of ways that these can be maintained and reap advantages for the country as a whole.

This is a more positive approach than behaving as the dog in Aesop's fable and in short term greed, casting aside the ham bone of what is right with Dominica and chasing an illusion that will bring us nothing at all. I wish the National Environmental Management Strategy every success in its programme in the years ahead. Thank You.


 

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