OECS chairman notes economic impact of Christmas disaster on sub-region

Kenton X. Chance

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent, Tuesday December 31, 2013, CMC – Chairman of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) says there will be an economic impact on the sub-region following the damage caused by a low level trough on St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica over the Christmas holidays.

“It certainly will have an impact, because, clearly, for these three member states, resources, which are every scarce, will have to be found one way or the other to reconstruct, reengineer and rehabilitate,” said Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, who is also the head of government in Antigua and Barbuda.

Spencer over the weekend visited the three affected countries.

The unseasonal weather system left at least 15 people dead in St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia and caused “hundreds of millions of dollars” in damage in the three islands.

“So, it will have an economic impact from the point of view of having to raise funds, and you are not going to get all of it gratis, by grant. You are going to have to find ways and means of getting the resources to do that,” Spencer said.

“My own view is that in situations like these, particularly where you have a number of members states being affected at the same time, that you have to find a mechanism, sub-regional, together, put together a mechanism that will put these members states out of this major challenge that they would have on their hands at this time.  

“And this is one of the reasons why I have decided to visit personally in my capacity as chair, to make a full assessments, so that we can coordinate our efforts here and make sure that the delivery of support, tangible support, real support, particularly in the area of rebuilding infrastructural situation, that can move on at a pace, because you can’t wait for one, two, three years to deal with these issues. These matters require rapid response,” Spencer said.

Spencer told reporters that having viewed the damage caused on the Barbados-based Caribbean Media Corporation news programme “Caribbean Newsline,” he had anticipated that the damage would have been major.

“But now that I have come and seen the situation first hand, I recognize that it’s been devastating. Clearly, what I am admiring really is the spirit and the resilience of the people of St Vincent, against the backdrop of what is clearly a devastating experience,” he said.

“And I am here, as I said, to show solidarity with the people of St Vincent and more particularly, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves. He and I have developed a close friendship and also as the current chair of the OECS Heads, recognizing that three of the member states have recently suffered as a result of the weather patterns.

“I thought it was a my duty to come and see for myself exactly what is taking place so that together we may be able to lend support to the efforts that the Vincentians are making in restoring and rebuilding after this disaster,” Spencer said.

Spencer spoke of the damage to a business owned by Joseph Da Silva in Belle Vue, where the river reduced the size of the land significantly.

Joseph owns a block-making operation, and a bakery, and the businessman said he had suffered damage of about EC$200,000.

“The fact that he is still in fine spirits and he is determined to move on is a classic example of the resilience of Caribbean people, and this has been demonstrated here today,” Spencer said.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who also accompanied Spencer on the tour, said that the damage to the country would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Gonsalves acknowledged that the island does not have the capacity to respond to the situation here that resulted in the deaths of nine people and four others missing.

Fifty percent of consumers are still without water, garbage collection in some areas has been suspended indefinitely, and scores of persons remain in emergency shelter.

Prime Minister Gonsalves said his administration would not to mask the reality of the extent of human suffering in the country.

“It is clear that the capacity of the state, as structured, to respond to a disaster of this magnitude is not at a level where it out to be. There are profound limitations,” Gonsalves said.

“For instance, in the Ministry of Social Development, we just don’t have enough persons in that area to deal with the extent of the social problems that have arisen — even in terms of the assessments,” Gonsalves said, adding that he has asked the Ministries of Education and Social Development to work together to mobilise teachers to assist with that assessment, since many of them are trained in this area.

“We are asking the Ministry of Health to be mindful of the issues regarding public health,” Gonsalves said.

Prime Minister Gonsalves said that his government had already reached out to friendly governments to assist in the rehabilitation exercise, noting that the Christmas holidays may also make it difficult to contact people overseas.

But he welcomed the presence here of representatives of several regional and international organizations for a meeting on Saturday, adding “we are on a path moving.

“I don’t have any fear that persons may feel that with all of this gathering and the importance, that we are a disaster area.

“Well, the country is not a disaster area, as a whole. We have declared several areas disaster areas. We have a functioning society going on,” he said, adding that the airports and seaport were open, and cruise ships were coming.

“Sometimes, people are fearful of not speaking what the truth is [because] tourists may not want to come. Well, those tourists who don’t come, I just accept that as a fact of life, but I have to deal with the problem I have in front of me, which is real flesh and blood people who are suffering,” Gonsalves said.

“So, I don’t want to put up any veil, I don’t want to put up any mask, I want us to understand what we are doing. And once people understand what we are doing, it is the best way to attract people to us, “he said, rather than having to pretend.

“People are suffering in this country, no question about it. People have lost their lives, families are suffering…” he said, noting that one family had lost five members in the disaster. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)