Days after Hurricane Irma ripped through the Caribbean, leaving in its path several dead, thousands displaced without access to water, food and proper shelter and buildings flattened, Regional stakeholders are beginning the do a more detailed assessment of the magnitude of the damage.
While many had expected Hurricane Irma to do massive damage in the Caribbean in its path to Florida, the scale of the destruction has left many in shock. Since Hurricane Ivan devastated Grenada in 2004, with the exception of a few smaller Hurricanes, we have not seen such widespread damage to countries’ public infrastructure and private homes.
Due to the level of destruction to these islands, in addition to the long time it would take as it relates to the rebuilding and reconstruction efforts, it will require massive amounts of financial and human resources to allow these countries to return to some degree of normalcy. This will call for huge contributions from international development partners, governments, individuals and organisations.
On Wednesday, CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell of Grenada and Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, along with several other regional stakeholders completed a tour of the hurricane devastated islands. The aim was to get a first-hand look at the level of devastation and assess the immediate, medium and long term needs of citizens. From what we have gathered so far, both from media reports and those provided by the CARICOM assessment team, the extent of the damage to the various islands has been massive and perhaps would take a very long time before they could fully recover from the hurricane’s impact.
According to the CARICOM Secretariat, an initial assessment by the Government in Antigua and Barbuda shows more than 90 percent of the buildings on the island were destroyed. Prime Minister Gaston Browne has since confirmed that all Barbuda residents have been relocated to sister island Antigua, with just a contingent of military personnel remaining to provide security.
In the British Virgin Island, Premier Dr Orlando Smith said the focus is on meeting critical immediate needs such as water and food supplies and restoring access to electricity and telecommunications, while simultaneously working on arrangements for getting students back into schools and getting critical sectors of the economy such as tourism and financial services back up to speed.
Anguilla’s Chief Minister Mr. Victor Banks reported that the island’s main hospital, schools and 90 percent of the homes were damaged. He indicated that efforts are being made to meet the pressing need for food, water, building supplies and electricity and confronting any challenges to the critical tourism sector.
It should be noted that following the tour of the islands, leaders indicated that steps are being made to convene an international Donors Conference to mobilise the ‘significant resources’ required for recovery efforts. This is indeed a positive move which would allow international development partners, governments, private sector organisations and individuals to have a better grasp of the immediate and long term needs of these countries. For example, in addition to other forms of support, affected countries would need much help in providing psychological counselling to help affected persons overcome the trauma of the hurricane Irma experience.
As stated by the Caricom Secretary General, given the scale of the destruction, countries and institutions in the international community must be willing to build on the current relief efforts by the Caribbean Community.
That said, several commentators have called for CARICOM governments whose nationals reside in the affected islands to provide some help in repatriating those persons back to their home countries once they are desirous of returning. Already some Caricom governments have begun to repatriate their nationals who have chosen to leave the British Virgin Islands. According to media reports, several persons took advantage of the opportunity to leave the island over the past week.
Many of the survivors fear that they would be forgotten once the dust of Hurricane Irma settles. For us in Guyana, we can only imagine how difficult the challenges ahead will be for many of them. Our hope is that Regional governments will step up and do what is necessary to ensure that normalcy returns to their communities as soon as possible.