It’s been more than two months since Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean island of Dominica, and much of the country is still reeling from the disaster.
Now, a group of faculty and students in University of Toronto Scarborough's department of physical and environmental science and the Centre for Critical Development Studies is raising funds to support relief efforts on the island.
“By all accounts, it’s still an ugly situation,” says Adam Martin, an assistant professor in environmental science who has deep ties to the country.
“Recovery efforts have been slow, and it’s hard to get reliable information from our friends and colleagues there because the power is still down.”
Hurricane Maria, one of the strongest category 5 Atlantic storms on record, slammed into Dominica in mid-September and completely ravaged the country, destroying much of its water, communication, health, security and energy infrastructure. Reports from the island continue to paint a grim picture – not only have relief efforts been slow, the distribution of aid has been unequal.
Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica
Martin, an ecologist who specializes in the physical characteristics of plants, began his connection to Dominica more than a decade ago as a young student. His research was based on the island and he formed close friendships with many researchers there. One close friend and collaborator is Elvis Stedman, who has partnered with Martin on much of his research.
“He told me he hasn’t had a fresh vegetable since the hurricane hit, and he’s hiking two hours through debris fields just to find a place to charge his cellphone so he can connect to the outside world,” says Martin.
Stedman is one of several collaborators on the island who act as guides for students from the master's of environmental science field camp course. He has also collaborated with researchers from the Faculty of Forestry for research projects on the island.
After hearing from colleagues about the slow recovery efforts on the island, Martin, along with Professor Roberta Fulthorpe, lab technician Tom Meulendyk and a group of graduate students from the department decided to set up their own recovery fund. The goal is to raise enough money to buy household water filtration systems, a solar energy system and a hydro system that can generate power from the many fast-flowing mountain streams on the island.
“Any financial assistance towards this goal is truly appreciated and will have a significant impact on the lives of Dominicans,” says Martin.
The units will go to support residents of Laudat Village, located close to the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center, the home base for the field course that was damaged by the hurricane, as well as Stedman and others living in high elevation communities vulnerable to energy and water disconnections.
While the group has sent individual care packages to friends and colleagues since the hurricane hit, this fundraising effort has more of a long-term, sustainable goal in mind.
“The assumption is that a storm of this magnitude will happen again sooner rather than later, and that severe storms will be more and more common with global warming,” says Meulendyk.
“The hope is to have these units in place so they can be used right away when it does happen again.”