In September 2017, Dominica, Saint Croix and Puerto Rico were devastated by Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster in the recorded history of those islands. The deadly Category 5 storm destroyed more than 90% of Dominica’s structures as its powerful winds ripped leaves from trees and stranded residents of remote communities without grid-based electricity for more than a year. Maria damaged or destroyed 70% of St. Croix’ buildings (including the island’s only hospital) while knocking out the power grid and communications networks for the entire U.S. Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, it caused more than US$90 billion in damages and left residents without full power for nearly a year. 

Maria made landfall just 12 days after Hurricane Irma, another lethal Category 5 storm which had already pummelled Saint Croix and Puerto Rico with high winds, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and leaving more than one million people without electricity.

This is the reality of life in the Caribbean in the era of climate change. Where islands in the “hurricane belt” previously had to prepare for one heavy storm each year, they’re now facing the possibility of several consecutive destructive storms, with little time to recover from one before the next one hits.

To grapple with such circumstances, the Caribbean region needs a strong plan for responding to and recovering from the impacts of severe weather events and natural disasters. Unfortunately, very few islands have put the necessary protocols in place to respond efficiently and effectively to these situations.

The Regional Emergency Response Strategy and Action Plan (RERSAP) project has been created with this in mind. Implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) as part of a financing agreement with the Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation (CARILEC), the ERSAP is designed to provide regional utilities with a clear plan for restoring power in the wake of catastrophic events. 

With a focus on strengthening resilience in electric utilities, the ERSAP is the fifth component in the GIZ’s approach to supporting the regional sustainability transition. It sits alongside the Policy, Capacity Development and Finance components under TAPSEC and the Integrated Resource and Resilience Plan (IRRP) under the Cli-RES project. Where the IRRP looks at the electricity system and its long-term resilience planning, the ERSAP focuses on ensuring that nations can bring power back online as soon as possible in the wake of an emergency, providing the means to support national recovery in the midst of a chaotic and traumatic time. 

The plan is being developed at the regional level by CARILEC to serve as a guiding document containing protocols that will allow Caribbean nations to implement the necessary measures to re-establish their infrastructure and recover quickly. It is expected to be completed by the end of June 2022, at which point implementation support will be provided to selected nations. 

The ERSAP is singular among the projects and initiatives implemented by the GIZ in that it is being executed in the hope that it will never be required. However, at a time in which five named tropical systems can form simultaneously within the Atlantic basin (as happened in September 2020), it is more critical than ever for the Caribbean region to be properly prepared to recover from their impacts, even as we hope they never make landfall.