St Lucia needs half a billion dollars to rebuild

CASTRIES, St Lucia, Monday November 8, 2010 – Prime Minister Stephenson King says it could take up to US$500 million to repair the massive infrastructural damage caused by Hurricane Tomas just over a week ago, much more than he had initially estimated and significantly more than the island can afford.

He said that after scrutinizing the damage, he realised that the island will need a lot more to get back to normal and will not be able to do it alone.

“The damage is so extensive to infrastructure, to property, to lives, that EC$100 million cannot do the job; it’s anything climbing to US$500 million, for what I have seen taking place here,” he said.

King said the cost of damage to the John Compton Dam, the island’s main water source, would be a few million dollars alone and the community of Fond St Jacques would have to be declared a special enforcement area, allowing for many of the residents to be moved to other areas. 

That relocation, the Prime Minister said, would translate to new developments, new buildings, new housing, new infrastructure and utilities and, therefore, more money.

Water concerns as source cut off

The government has announced a water related emergency because a landslide in the western community of Roseau has left the John Compton Dam inaccessible.

“While a national disaster has already been declared, the water emergency is a specific announcement in light of the implications for the island, which is under threat of a dwindling water supply,” a government statement said. “The Ministry of Health has issued strict sanitary protocols for use of water including boiling before drinking, washing of hands before food preparation and consumption and most importantly conservation of current supplies.”

The new water-related emergency declaration will allow law enforcement authorities to stop residents from using water for purposes such as watering lawns, washing vehicles, filling pools etc.

Prime Minister King said he has been encouraged by the response of the international community to St Lucia’s plight so far.

“Most times international support is dependent on need rather than just giving, and there has been a lot of interest in our needs as to what we want exactly and what is required to enable us to reconstruct the country. So far the level of interest is extremely high in terms of actual monies coming in. We have already been able to trigger off a number of envelopes of assistance under disaster funds,” he said.

King said the governments of Britain, the United States, France, Panama and several Caribbean nations have made contact to see how they can assist. After an initial assessment, the Catastrophic Caribbean Risk Insurance Fund (CCRIF) also indicated that St Lucia would benefit from an approximate US$3.2 million payout. 

PM praises T&T leader for helping

Last Friday, under a cloud of controversy, Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar visited the hurricane-hit island. She said she had already sent several containers of relief supplies to the island, as well as to St Vincent and the Grenadines which was also severely hit by Tomas.

“I want to make it very clear, Mr Prime Minister, that we remain committed to assisting you here and the people of St Lucia. There are no strings attached to the humanitarian aid that we bring and will continue to send to you for reconstruction,” she told King at a press conference, in obvious reference to criticism heaped on her since comments last week that her twin-island nation would have to benefit from providing aid to its neighbours affected by Tomas.

A day before her trip to St Lucia, Persad-Bissessar sought to clarify and expand on her comments, alleging she was misunderstood. The Trinidadian leader said at a press conference that day that her country would give humanitarian aid without preconditions, and that her government would source relief supplies from local partners and businesses and then pass them on to the affected countries, rather than sending “T&T dollars to convert into US, which will then be used to buy materials somewhere else.”

King said his country was grateful for whatever assistance Trinidad and Tobago could provide.

“Let me take this opportunity to thank you for your practical commitment to St Lucia`s efforts at recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Tomas. Immediately after indicating to you our immediate concerns, within 24 hours you were able to put together a shipment of water particularly to commence your efforts in brining support to St Lucia,” he said.

Banana industry out of commission

Meantime, agriculture officials are still counting the losses and are hoping to seize the opportunity created by Tomas’ devastation to further bolster the sector for sustainable growth. 

Agriculture Minister Ezekiel Joseph said the banana industry, in particular, was completely wiped out and it could take up to eight months before it can be revived enough to resume exports.

“As a country, we may be able to export bananas in May or June 2011, and that is dependent on what percentage of the fields are snapped (a snapped field is one where the neck of the  mother plant is broken but the root is still standing),” he said. “If we have a higher percentage of snapped fields then we should be able to export by May or June 2011.”

“If there is need for total rehabilitation, as a Ministry we believe that we should capitalize on the opportunity for us to produce during a period when WINFRESH (formerly the Windward Islands Banana Development and Exporting Company) and the UK market have the demand for the product. So, whilst there are a lot of sad stories, there are opportunities for us as a country to capitalize on what is happening right now,” he added.

Preliminary assessments have also shown that the livestock sector was also hard hit by Hurricane Tomas which came at a time when the entire agriculture industry was re-emerging from the effects of a recent drought.

Minister Joseph says the devastation caused by the natural disaster has made it even more important for government to scale up support for the industry.

“The prime minister just recently made an allocation to provide support to our farmers –livestock farmers, banana farmers and our fishermen. Right now we have to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

“We believe that whilst the situation is drastic, our farmers will be able to bounce back with the necessary support. It’s not the first time we have experienced something like this; we know our farmers are capable of bouncing back, although this is the worst I have ever seen in my tenure within the agriculture sector. We will not surrender; I want to see this as an opportunity and I will capitalize on it.”

Joseph says technical personnel from his ministry will conduct an in-depth assessment to ascertain the full extent of loss to the agriculture sector.

In addition to infrastructural and agriculture damage, Tomas claimed about 14 lives in St Lucia.

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