Published On: Sat, Jun 16th, 2018

A Delta Plan for St. Maarten

By Hilbert Haar

Actions speak louder than words; that thought came to mind during the seventh annual Governor’s Symposium, this time with climate change as its central theme.

The time to act is now, I heard. The sea level is rising and if we wait long enough we’ll see all our beaches, the airport, the cruise port, Philipsburg, Simpson Bay and other low lying parts of the island disappear under water. The Lowlands will become a separate island.

Useless to say, with no beaches to go to, the strip in Simpson Bay swallowed by the sea and Philipsburg a no-go zone, our tourism industry will collapse and eventually disappear. The dump will be the least of our problems by that time.

While the governor’s symposium brought us a message of gloom and doom, there really wasn’t much new about it. The Nature Foundation published already an alarming report about the impact of climate change on St. Maarten in 2013.

Politicians went about their business, but nobody thought of bringing that report to the floor of Parliament and asking some hard questions about safeguarding the future of our children’s children.

No sir. One politician I approached just shrugged his shoulders when I told him that the airport would, over time, disappear under water. The reaction: Oh well, we’ll simply make the runway a bit higher.

Five years have gone by since the Nature Foundation published its report and politicians have done exactly nothing. Zip.

The reason our current crop of politicians is doing nothing – except paying lip service to the issue – is not difficult to understand. A member of parliament is elected for four years. If she or he is really good and manages to hang on to popular support – there is a second and maybe even a third term on the horizon. That makes tenures of twelve years for some politicians realistic.

And those twelve years are their horizon, they don’t look beyond it even though they bloody well should. But as things stand now, it is crystal clear that our politicians don’t give a damn about climate change. By the time their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are drowning in Simpson Bay, they’ll be long dead and gone.

Okay, so what should be done? St. Maarten, and with it all small island developing states in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the world need a Delta Plan – akin to the massive investments the Netherlands made after the 1953 flood.

And the time to act on such a plan is now, because, in St. Maarten’s case, it requires cooperation with our French neighbors. Seawalls on the Dutch side are hardly useful if the French side isn’t doing anything – the water would come in through the back door.

The terms ‘urgency’ and ‘act now’ were freely used during the symposium. But words without action mean absolutely nothing.

There were around ten young students at the symposium. They, and their children, will experience the consequences down the road if our government continues to pay lip service without taking any initiative to work towards a solution that will most likely cost more than the World Bank is currently holding in trust for the island’s recovery after Hurricane Irma.

It is tempting to take the facts that were presented at the symposium as a message to get the hell out of here and it would not surprise me if that is indeed what some citizens will do in the near future.


Publisher’s note: This is the last opinion piece written by Hilbert Haar in his capacity as reporter for StMaartenNews.com. His opinion pieces will be sorely missed here at StMaartenNews.com. Truly the end of a journalistic era for St. Maarten. “You loved this photo, although we don’t know why. So just this one last time, we publish this photo specially for you, Bert.” – Terrance Rey

Hilbert Haar - foto Milton Pieters