Sustainable development is key for Barbuda

Tranquil, peaceful, relaxing, unspoilt, remote and quiet are terms that are used to describe the sister isle by sailors and sophisticated travellers.

On Internet blogs they speak about its long and glorious, virtually deserted beaches; the amazing turquoise sea, bluer than the sky; offshore reefs that provide pristine snorkelling; and the Frigate Bird Sanctuary that nature lovers enjoy.

Some of these travellers have expressed the view that the island has lost a little of its charm because the dirt roads have been resurfaced and some shiny new vehicles have appeared.

This raises the question, what is the good of Barbudans holding on to that “charm” while many natives remain unemployed?

On the other hand, listening to Barbudans speak about their simple life, it appears that there is a struggle between maintaining this unspoiled lifestyle and embracing the kind of change that inevitably follows development.

The simple lifestyle includes hunting wild pigs and the fallow deer, fishing and caring for horses. Historically, agriculture did not feature prominently in the economy so only a few aging farmers continue to cultivate the land and engage in animal husbandry.

In the past, it seemed to many Antiguans that Barbudans objected to any attempt by Central Government to develop the island. One blogger suggested that the islanders resisted the development of tourism in order to preserve their simple way of life.

However, Fabian Jones, chairman of the council refutes this claim. He explained that what Barbudans objected to was the high-handed approach by the former Antigua Labour Party (ALP) in bypassing the council to introduce its own brand of development.

However, he acknowledged that on occasions when this approach benefitted the community, although council chafed at the disrespect, it allowed it to go through.

He said in 1995, the ALP wanted to win the election, so it did some roadwork on the island, but instead of working through the council under whose portfolio falls the building and maintenance of roads, it sent the material directly to its representatives.

Nonetheless, when Central Government attempted to lease lands for hotel construction on lands that the council had designated for a national park the people took a stand.

One of those persons to whom Central Government had offered 46 square miles of Barbuda dubbed the New Order of Aragon, was the infamous Robert Vesco who was accused by the US Securities and Exchange Commission of securities fraud and who was later indicted by the Cuban government for fraud and illicit activity.

In effect, Jones contended that it would not be fair to say that Barbudans were retarding development; what in fact they were doing was standing up for their rights.

Whether we accept Jones’ explanation for the position in which Barbuda finds itself today does not change the fact that the island is far behind in its economic development when compared with other twin islands like Nevis or Tobago.

And what is inexplicable is that Barbudans are still loyal to the very party they blame for their economic retardation, since the MP Trevor Walker only won his seat by one vote.

However, with a more co-operative relationship between council and the United Progressive Party administration and the economic activities planned for Barbuda this year, there should be changes in its economic and social landscape.

These economic activities include preparation of the dock to accommodate the new ferry MV Fjortof now sailing between Antigua and Montserrat; construction of an Artisanal Fisheries Complex by the Japanese; construction of a community centre by the Chinese; and continued work on Codrington Airstrip which includes a terminal building to accommodate at least 50 travellers.

Construction boom almost anywhere in the world attracts immigrants looking to better their economic situation and Barbuda will be no exception.

Workers will be flocking there from all over the Caribbean as soon as the word spreads that work is available.

The authorities will no doubt fight for first preference for Barbudans; however, they might not be able to achieve this, since the firms contracted to do the job would more than likely be travelling with their own contingent of managers and skilled workers.

More people traffic will mean a boom for all businesses, to include guesthouses, taxi drivers, bakeries, supermarkets, restaurants, etc, and even more importantly, young people will be employed.

Another benefit will be increased traffic from tourists: local, regional and international, and we already know the benefits and problems that attend this activity.

Additionally, there will be a change in the complexion and culture of the island as different ethnic groups decide to make Barbuda their home.

However, should the local population become outnumbered by foreigners, it will inevitably lead to conflicts. Whenever migrants’ numbers are small, the conflicts are few and more manageable, as is the case presently in Barbuda, but as the numbers increase, so too will the problems and Barbuda will be no exception.

As Barbuda moves into the 21st century, it should use the misuse of its most precious resource, sand, as an important lesson and ensure that its economic development is sustainable, that is, using the available resources – its people and land – to the benefit of this and future generations.