A worker walks past a house where the roof is being rebuilt.
UNDP is working with local contractors to repair hurricane-damaged roofs in Antigua and Barbuda. UNDP photo

It was November 2017 and I had spent another hectic and eventful day working on the world’s most severe humanitarian crises as UNDP’s Early Recovery Programme Coordinator in north-east Nigeria. I had just returned to the Humanitarian Base Camp in Maiduguri when I received the phone call to enquire if I would be interested in a post in the Caribbean in response to Hurricane Irma. My immediate response was no, not now. Because I was neck-deep in preparations for the simultaneous launch of four large, long-term recovery projects. But with some prodding I agreed to share an updated CV. Two months later, I arrived in cosy Antigua (the bigger of the two sister islands of Antigua and Barbuda) on a bright sunny afternoon in January 2018.

Two days into my new appointment, I began to experience first-hand the fact that the significance of any crisis response lies in a combination of factors, including but not limited to the size of the population in need. The complexity of the response is a key factor in these regards. And I soon appreciated the fact that what Antigua and Barbuda lacks in population it more than makes up for in complexity.

The hurricane response called for the establishment of a permanent UNDP presence in Antigua and Barbuda, with continued support from the sub-regional office in Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States . As a result, the pioneer UNDP team, which I led in the first six months, comprised of 12 persons half of whom were nationals of Antigua and Barbuda. With the US$2 million China-backed signature-project that UNDP co-led with the Government, this very committed team of men and women remained focused despite the never-ending stream of difficulties we encountered, especially in the very early stages.

In a show of international solidarity, UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited Antigua and Barbuda shortly after the Hurricane Irma struck the islands.

The most gratifying moment came exactly six months into my appointment when the Project Office assembled a cross section of national stakeholders to review some of the lessons learned from the pilot re-roofing project in preparation for the launch of longer-term recovery projects in Barbuda. During the day-long meeting with local contractors who had helped to repair damaged roofs, every single contractor unambiguously expressed willingness to continue to do business with UNDP as they affirmed that UNDP is indeed a tested and trusted partner for the sustainable development of the Small Island Developing State of Antigua and Barbuda.

Presently, I feel more upbeat about my appointment as I look forward to working with local partners who understand how different UNDP is from other “companies” or “NGOs”; and together we can approach the arduous task of ensuring the sustainable long-term recovery and resilience of these enchanting and disaster-prone Islands.

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