Cash-starved is­lan­ders turn to vol­un­teers for hur­ri­cane re­lief

Vul­ner­a­ble ‘wealthy’ com­mu­ni­ties call for more aid as they strug­gle to re­store power and sew­er­age

The Observer - - NEWS - By Ben Quinn

Heavy rain­fall, mosquito in­fes­ta­tions and flood­ing are bring­ing fresh mis­ery to be­lea­guered sur­vivors of Hur­ri­cane Irma, a week on from the storm which brought dev­as­ta­tion to the Caribbean last week.

But while the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to face crit­i­cism for what some see as a slow re­ac­tion to the plight of its over­seas ter­ri­to­ries, a vol­un­teer-led re­sponse is now un­der way in lo­ca­tions such as the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands (BVI).

Si­mon Roberts, a car­pen­ter who was res­i­dent on the BVI’s largest island of Tor­tola for more than a decade but evac­u­ated with his wife and chil­dren be­fore the cat­e­gory-five hur­ri­cane hit, was this week­end pre­par­ing to re­turn with a dozen trades­men, bring­ing tools and re­sources in by boat from the US.

“San­i­ta­tion is now a huge is­sue, so we are go­ing to be get­ting stuck in to help­ing with that,” said Roberts. “Most peo­ple there have a house on a con­crete slab, a cis­tern and ‘soak­away’ sys­tem for their toi­let. So the ba­sic plan is to start re­build­ing shel­ters on those slabs and to get gut­ter­ing in place, so that they can start col­lect­ing fresh wa­ter again.”

Tor­tola res­i­dent Chuck Krall­man told the Ob­server: “One hun­dred per cent of the coun­try has been dev­as­tated. The lo­gis­tics of mov­ing sup­plies and aid is ex­traor­di­nar­ily dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive. Thou­sands of peo­ple are liv­ing in ram­shackle build­ings with no walls and need to leave. Many peo­ple have lost ev­ery­thing, have no cash or clothes, and don’t have the money to leave”.

Power is grad­u­ally be­ing re­stored to many parts of the BVI, in­clud­ing the ter­ri­tory’s main hos­pi­tal on Tor­tola, but a cur­few re­mains in place from 6pm to 9am, and res­i­dents have been asked to stay off the roads un­less nec­es­sary.

Many cur­rent and for­mer BVI res­i­dents are us­ing so­cial me­dia to mo­bilise re­sources and cir­cu­late lists of ur­gently needed sup­plies, in­clud­ing gen­er­a­tors, blan­kets, bed linen, mosquito tablets and con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als.

Other ef­forts in­clude those or­gan­ised by Richard Bran­son, whose Caribbean home on one of the BVI’s 50 is­lands was badly dam­aged.

On his web­site on Fri­day, Bran­son wrote: “While we are in­cred­i­bly thank­ful for ev­ery­thing be­ing done to help the BVI com­mu­ni­ties, more help is needed … These is­lands now re­ally need the level of sup­port only a large or­gan­i­sa­tion with sig­nif­i­cant disas­ter man­age­ment ex­pe­ri­ence can pro­vide to come in and help.”

The For­eign Of­fice said this week­end that it had ar­ranged mil­i­tary-as­sisted de­par­tures for el­i­gi­ble per­sons from the BVI and was putting sim­i­lar ar­range­ments in place for other af­fected Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ries. In ad­di­tion to Royal Marines who are on the ground pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity, Pub­lic Health Eng­land is send­ing three spe­cial­ists to work with the chief med­i­cal of­fi­cers of the ter­ri­tory.

The hur­ri­cane could prove to be a cat­a­lyst in the longer term for a re­think of the eco­nomic and so­cial model of ter­ri­to­ries such as the BVI, as well as Bri­tain’s re­la­tion­ship with them.

Dr Peter Clegg, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in pol­i­tics and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the Univer­sity of the West of Eng­land in Bris­tol, who has ad­vised Caribbean gov­ern­ments and UK min­is­ters in the past, said that the rel­a­tively high GDP fig­ures for so­ci­eties such as the BVI masked in­come diver­sity.

“A sit­u­a­tion like this is likely to high­light that ter­ri­to­ries like the BVI are vul­ner­a­ble and can­not rely on the benev­o­lence of the UK. Their great hope, go­ing for­ward, was ex­port­ing fish to the Euro­pean mar­ket, but all ter­ri­to­ries are now quite con­cerned about the im­pli­ca­tions of Brexit and how that may im­pact free move­ment and also EU aid.”

Clegg said the UK gov­ern­ment had been “play­ing catchup” since the hur­ri­cane. “These ter­ri­to­ries do not have the phys­i­cal ca­pac­ity to re­spond to a hur­ri­cane. They are vul­ner­a­ble, with lim­ited in­fra­struc­ture, and the UK re­ally should have stepped up more quickly.”

Pho­to­graph by Joel Rouse/MoD

Royal Marines help­ing to clear de­bris in Road Town on Tor­tola in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.