Saturday, February 24, 2018

In the spirit of the region

Right from the start, it is important to note the swift responses with which citizens and institutions, public and private, in Trinidad and Tobago, have sought to rally to the aid of our Caribbean brothers and sisters caught in the maelstrom of super Hurricane Irma.

This most severe weather phenomenon in more than a decade has left a trail of destruction, damage and loss of lives across the chain of islands literally from Antigua and Barbuda in the south, to the Florida Keys, in the north. And that was up to yesterday.

Packing winds of more than 85 miles an hour, the Category 5 hurricane left its mark in Barbuda, the smaller sister in the twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda earlier in the week, that country's prime minister, Gaston Browne, said there was “absolute devastation” in Barbuda, which is now rendered 90 per cent uninhabitable. In French-Dutch St Martin, officials estimate that up to 70 per cent of homes have been damaged or destroyed. In Havana, Cuba, over the weekend, storm surges from Irma's wrath created waves as high as 36 feet, and this led to flooding on the streets with residents having to wade through water waist deep in some parts. Several businesses along the seaside areas were damaged. And in the eastern town of Varadero, officials there described the hurricane's effects as “a complete disaster” which will take a long time to recover.

In the British Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Tobago citizens living and working have begun an appeal for help from the Government in Port of Spain to get them out of there. Similarly, nationals in parts of southern Florida were fearing the worst, yesterday.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago swiftly announced plans to assist, wherever such assistance is needed, particularly in those islands and territories which form part of the Caribbean Community (Caricom).

In a situation in which governments and public agencies are feeling the effects of depressed financial resources, the capacity for assistance is going to be severely measured. The Government in Port of Spain, as an example, historically and customarily out front in such relief and assistance efforts in the face of such natural disasters, has made the point from early, that much of that assistance will be in kind, and not in cash. The Government has made a national security helicopter available to the government in Antigua, and has announced that the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management will act as a general co-ordinating and collection agency for emergency supplies to be sent to those people in need, across the affected islands. Also very early off the blocks, the prime minister of Grenada pledged, in general terms, his government's disposition to assist, wherever, and in whatever way this is possible. Uppermost in his mind, would have been the severe hit his own country and his people suffered, in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, 13 years ago, and the way the rest of the region rallied to their side.

It is going to be a test of will, of commitment and determination, in such times of straightened circumstances all around, for us to come to the aid of our Caribbean family once again. But the expressions of support, and the announcement of relief efforts already pledged, tell a story of a people bound together in humanitarian spirit, despite acknowledged hard times of their own.