There has been a great show of regional unity since the first eruption of the La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent on April 9 this year.
We too have been touched by the recent event. Only today Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced that we will be purchasing additional water from Dominica.
Days before the actual eruption when word of the pending natural disaster was made known, Caribbean leaders, especial those in the Eastern Caribbean, pledged their support to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
So moved was Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves that he was driven to tears as he expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of love and support for his country and its people.
As neighbouring countries committed to house hundreds of Vincentians, Dr Gonsalves told a press conference: “Amazing eh? On this dangerous road to Jericho, we have the good Samaritians… to put people in their homes…strangers…brings tears to my eyes. I love the Caribbean. That is the way we are at the moment, and I just want to say again, to all persons involved in the evacuation exercise. I want to thank you for what you have been doing…the goodness of the hearts of our people and our Caribbean brothers and sisters.”
The volcano has displaced close to 20,000 persons with over 12,700 evacuees now registered in public shelters and in private homes. Entire villages have been covered in ashfall, buildings damaged, schools and businesses closed, crops and livestock destroyed, and residents left with limited access to clean drinking water.
Since the multiple eruptions the support has intensified. Soldiers and humanitarian aid workers have been deployed from Barbados and other regional countries. From as far south as Venezuela, boats and ship loads of personnel and supplies have docked at the Port of Kingstown.
Member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-People’s Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP) voyaged from Venezuela to deliver 20 tons of aid which included: water, food, mattresses, sheets, and personal hygiene items. The ship also brought to the island 69 doctors and experts in natural disaster.
From local church groups to international agencies have rallied with St Vincent. The St Vincent Seventh Day Adventist donated 15 000 hotmeals, valued EC$150, 000, to displaced people. The Global Empowerment Mission delivered thousands of dollars in supplies to those housed in shelters. A rotary club from the French island of Martinque also donated supplies.
Then of course there were large corporations and businesses which did their part as well.
Regionally, insurance and banking giants such as Sagicor and FirstCaribbean International Bank have also contributed.
The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk insurance Faciltity gave EC$6 million while the European Union gave EC$2.4 million. On Tuesday, the United Nations launched a $29 million global appeal to help those affected by eruptions of the volcano. This includes St Vincent and other countries impacted by the eruptions.
The UN stated that funding will provide immediate lifesaving humanitarian aid including ash assistance and clean water as well as support a sustainable recovery programme.
For us in Barbados we are extremely heartened by the goodwill of the Government and people of Guyana.
A shipment of some 250 tonnes of supplies left Guyana on Tuesday heading to Barbados then St. Vincent. Before The ‘Lady Fazeela vessel set sail President Irfaan Ali told the media that Barbados was badly affected as the plume of volcanic ash from the eruption disrupted the country’s water supply, leading to a shortage.
But for us President Ali’s words were as meaningful as his kind gesture.
The president said: “I want to assure Prime Minister, [Mia] Mottley and Prime Minister, [Ralph] Gonsalves that not only we are with them in this immediate term, but we are with them throughout the process of rebuilding not only the physical infrastructure but rebuilding the lives that would have been affected.
“Barbados is also tremendously affected; [the] airport was closed completely for a prolonged period; the water resources tremendously stressed to the extent that they do have water shortages, so on this shipment, we will be sending water, and water tanks, also to help Barbados in their recovery efforts.
“It must not only be disasters that bring us together. It must not only be disasters that push us to work like this together. This must be a part of our culture, and building our country and building the CARICOM region.”
We echo President Ali’s sentiment. Sometimes we go through trying periods such as this, we band together, we show the rest of the world what Caribbean unity looks like. But then we go back in our corners and undermine that unity by words and deeds.
On September 6, 2017, Antigua and Barbuda was hit by Hurricane Irma which flattened Barbuda and caused havoc in Antigua.
The catastrophic cyclone’s eye passed directly over Barbuda resulting in whirlwinds, storm surges and flooding. Aggravating the situation, was Hurricane Maria which passed on September 18, 2017. Antigua was devasted by the storm and the entire region rallied about them as well.
Now years later the same leader, Gaston Browne, who received an overwhelming show of love and support has allowed the lamentable LIAT issue to divide us. Yes, we will disagree. Yes, we can’t always see eye to eye on all issues. Indeed, we all want to protect our sovereignty but shouting across the Caribbean sea is not the way to do it. Prime Minister Browne has been very critical of many of his Caribbean counterparts of late. Even his statement about St Vincent only sending pretty girls to Antigua has landed him in hot water yet again.
Like President Ali, we too long for the day that not only disasters bring us together. We want to see more acts of this togetherness daily. We the citizens are willing and ready. We now leave it to our respective leaders to do their part to make this a reality.