Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sir Edwin Carrington on Tomas Response

Date: 25 Nov 2010

(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) CARICOM Secretary-General His Excellency Sir Edwin Carrington has praised the preparedness, resilience and resourcefulness of the peoples of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia which allowed the two CARICOM Member States to regroup within days after a hurricane swept through the islands, leaving in its wake death and destruction.

He lauded what he characterized as a "home-grown" national response that was a measure of the islands' preparedness and resourcefulness.

However, he has cautioned that the Region must be prepared for such eventualities since it was not a matter of if, but when natural disasters would strike.

"We must ensure we have the capacity to deal with disaster. It will come; it is not a question of `if'. Disaster is a part of our very existence and we must mainstream it in our activities," the Secretary-General said.

The Secretary-General visited the two islands Monday and Tuesday to get a first-hand look at the damage Hurricane Tomas wrought and to consider ways in which the Community could render assistance. He was accompanied by Chef de Cabinet in the Office of the Secretary-General, Ms Glenda Itiaba, and Head of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Agency (CDEMA), Mr. Jeremy Collymore.

Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves, and the Hon. Stephenson King, Prime Ministers of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia, respectively, both briefed the Secretary-General on the steps their administrations were taking to rebound from the disaster.

According to Prime Minister King, the strength of the integration movement was evident in times like these when the Community banded together. Describing the visit as timely, the Prime Minister said the Secretary-General could undertake the role of coordinator/facilitator to galvanise regional support for the level of assistance that was necessary for reconstruction. He also sought support for the mobilization of the Diaspora.

Moving around both Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Castries, Saint Lucia, there was not much evidence of the damage left by the hurricane. But inland, the evidence was graphic. Twenty-four hours of continuous rain caused floods, land- and mudslides in Saint Lucia that resulted in deaths, toppled homes and trees, blocked major arteries and re-routed waterways.

The entire banana industry of both countries was destroyed and other crops were also decimated. Estimates have pegged recovery of the agriculture sector of the countries at between six to nine months.

In recognition of the pivotal role agriculture played in their economies, both countries have begun assistance to farmers, including the distribution of fertilizer and urea to those in St. Vincent and the Grenadines with a proposal for income support to be presented shortly. An initial US$3M has been identified for farmers in Saint Lucia, whose breadbasket – the town of Soufriere – was severely affected by Hurricane Tomas.

With regard to shelter the number of persons in shelters in St Vincent and the Grenadines was greatly reduced, and more than 600 workers throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines were repairing homes. Prime Minister Gonsalves said and there was a feeding programme ongoing for about 1 500 persons who still needed support. While the electricity supply has been restored to 98 per cent of homes, electricity and water was expected to be fully restored island-wide in a matter of days.

In Soufriere, heavy duty equipment was clearing land in one area to accommodate tents for those persons who had been displaced by the storm, while in another section of the town, bulldozers and trucks were clearing mud and debris from blocked roadways. The government of Saint Lucia was providing some assistance to help persons to rebuild their homes, and has also approached Member States for assistance with pre-fabricated housing.

"It's a task on our hands but we're up to it," Prime Minister King said of the recovery effort.