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The people of Barbuda, part of the larger state of Antigua and Barbuda, were evacuated after Hurricane Irma devastated the island in September 2017. A lack of reconstruction efforts prevented many Barbudans from returning to their devastated homes.
The government also took advantage of the disruption caused by the hurricane to push through new laws giving them the ability to confiscate Barbudans’ communal land in order to sell it to outside investors for their own benefit. Prior to the new laws, land in Barbuda was held communally in a tradition that dated back to the abolition of slavery in 1834 and was finally formalized under the Barbuda Land Act 2007.
As part of this strategy, the government capitalised on the displacement of Barbudans to clear acres of forest, without opposition, to construct a new international airport, in connection with plans to build a multi-million-dollar tourism resort. An initial site that was deforested has now been abandoned due to a recent discovery of cavernous grounds below the designated construction site. Work is now underway clearing a second area of forest while at the same time the government is accused of failing to help Barbudans restore their basic infrastructure.
There are very serious environmental consequences at stake in this development given that Barbuda is home to a very delicate ecosystem. Clearing acres of virgin forest will have a detrimental impact on the island’s flora and fauna, especially for species such as the Barbuda warbler deer and red-footed tortoise.
With the support of the Global Legal Action Network and Garden Court Chambers, Barbudans have launched a legal challenge in Antiguan courts against three different government bodies over the construction of the airport. The claim challenges the government’s decision to approve the airport construction in breach of planning law and that they failed to secure a comprehensive environmental impact assessment.
In August of last year, Barbudans were successful in obtaining a High Court injunction halting construction work on the airport. However, this was then lifted by the Court in September 2018, allowing further works to continue. Having returned to the court with new evidence Barbudans and their supporters are continuing what will be a long legal battle.
Objectives and Action
GLAN has launched a crowdfund campaign to support barbudans in their fight against this land grab. The campaign seeks to raise funds to cover a potentially long legal battle to further resist the clear cutting of their pristine forests.
Land grabs, such as this, are symptomatic of a global trend where vulnerable communities are dispossessed of their land to make way for large-scale private investments from which governments, multinational corporations and investors seek to profit. As custodians of their island, it is vitally important that Barbudans are fully equipped to defend their rights. As such, GLAN’s international crowdfund is aimed at empowering Barbudans to assert their rights. Furthermore this case demonstrates the necessity for development projects that avoid increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Replacing untouched forests with a polluting international airport represents a complete abdication of the government’s responsibility to tackle the threat faced, especially by island nations, from climate change impacts.