Darcus Howe worries in Hurricane Ivan's wake

In the wake of Hurricane Ivan, what is left for the smaller Caribbean islands?

Whither the tiny Caribbean islands? This is no longer an abstract question. Over the past ten years, and after two major natural disasters, the matter has become of more immediate importance.

I remember attending a seminar organised by a trade union in Trinidad in the late 1980s, at which a delegate boasted about the importance of these islands to the rest of the world. By then, I had come to the conclusion that island peoples tend to have an exaggerated view of themselves. I should know: after all, I have lived all my life on small islands - born in Trinidad, then migrating to Britain in my late teens.

I answered the delegate. Suppose, I said, that there suddenly appeared, deep beneath the surfaces of Grenada and Trinidad, some serious geological fault, and that both islands quickly disappeared: what would ensue? The world would not be short of a single commodity. The disaster would occupy television screens and the front pages of international newspapers for a couple of weeks, at most, and then it would be put on the back burner. And that would be that.

Tell me now who remembers the tiny island of Montserrat in the Caribbean? It is a skip away from Grenada and Trinidad. In June 1997, a volcano erupted on the island, destroying two-thirds of it. Eight thousand Montserratians left at once for London, Toronto, New York and Antigua. There are more Montserratians out of Montserrat than in. Those who stayed on live by British charity: 81 per cent of them are employed in the government service, financed, to the last penny, by Britain. Beyond this, the only major economic activity is shipments of cocaine to the US.

And what of Grenada? All economic activity has ceased, following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Ivan. Agriculture - nil; tourism - nil; government activity - nil; the local government treasury - nil.

The inevitable stares us in the face. There will be mass migration to Trinidad and Tobago, where there is already a fairly large Grenadian population; and more, many more, will be off to New York, Toronto and London.

One fantasist proclaimed that it would take 200 years for Grenada to return to its pre-Ivan state. No one knows how he arrived at this ridiculous calculation. All I can repeat are the words of a Trinidadian calypso: "The world don't need islands no more."