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  • A resident washes her hair with water from a pipe on the side of a road days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

    A resident washes her hair with water from a pipe on the side of a road days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. | Photo: Reuters

Caribbean leaders hope to prevent damage from future hurricanes to protect its tourism industry.

In a show of regional solidarity with its Caribbean neighbors, the Jamaican government announced it will lead disaster relief in the Caribbean. At a recent U.N. meeting in China, Jamaica's Minister of Tourism Ed Bartlett was named the head of the disaster recovery working group.

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"If there are seismic or climatic events which have damaged and ravaged and caused disruption in economic flow as well as the destruction of property and the loss of human lives, that represents a serious moment for us in the region," Bartlett said.

The decision to form the U.N. World Trade Organization Disaster Recovery Working Group for the Affected States in the Caribbean comes just after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria ravaged several Caribbean nations one after another in early September.

These Category 4 and 5 storms cost the region many lives as well as billions of dollars in damages. Since Hurricane Maria, 95 percent of Puerto Rico is still without electricity. The group is being formed to prepare for potential torrential-scale storms in the future.

Because the Caribbean's economy is highly dependent on tourism, Bartlett will hold the group's first meeting at the Caribbean Tourism Organization's annual State of the Tourism Industry Conference on Oct. 12 in Grenada. Nearly 9 percent of Jamaica's GDP comes from tourism. Bartlett told the Gleaner that in Grenada members will make site visits around the Caribbean and create a plan of action to restore tourism in the region.

The plan will be presented at the Group Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism in Jamaica from Nov. 27-29, an event organized and sponsored by the UNWTO, the government of Jamaica and the World Bank.

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Representatives from Jamaica's Ministry of Tourism said that tourism in the Caribbean increased more than the global average of 3.9 percent in 2016, mainly due to the region's increase in cruises tours. That translates to about a $US26.3 million increase last year. The region took in over US$27 billion in tourism dollars in 2016.

The tourism ministry said, "Tourism is the single largest generator of foreign exchange in 16 of the 28" Caribbean countries. "The region has a higher proportion of total employment and percentage of GDP derived from tourism than any other region in the world" and accounts for 31 percent of the region's GDP.

Nearly 9 percent of Jamaica's GDP comes from tourism. The country escaped most of this seasons hurricanes and even expects its tourism numbers to increase this year as vacationers opt for Jamaica over other, more heavily damaged islands.

The disaster relief working group hopes to mitigate potential decreases in Caribbean tourism and help prevent future hurricane damage caused on the islands.

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