KINGSTOWN – The Vincentian business community has warned that layoffs could be on the horizon unless some of the aid earmarked for the volcano-stricken mainland comes to them.
Tony Regisford, head of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce said that recent eruptions at the La Soufriere Volcano, when coupled with the COVID-19 crisis, have brought the two main economic drivers, tourism and farming, to their knees.
The business leader called for grants and subsidies from the country’s development partners to include businesses.
Earlier this week, the United Nations launched an initiative to raise about $60 million ($29.2 million) in global funding to assist the country with its recovery effort.
Regisford now called for greater engagement with the commercial sectors on how the money is to be allocated.
He said: “I believe there is room for those monies being used to rebuild, to be pumped into the system and therefore the private sector can benefit because they are the suppliers of goods and services. That is the positive scenario.
“The negative scenario is that that doesn’t happen, the economy contracts even further than what was predicted because of the pandemic, and clearly, jobs will be threatened.”
For over a year, tourism has been “annihilated” because of the pandemic situation, he said, now followed by two weeks of volcanic explosions that have destroyed a large portion of the country’s farms.
Much like in Barbados, heavy ashfalls have forced businesses to run for cover and the persistent water outages that followed made it extremely difficult for them to resume business.
“So the immediate impact here is that there is a loss of production for those persons in the productive sectors and a loss of business hours because we weren’t able to open.
We’re still counting and I can’t give you a figure to quantify that impact,” Regisford told Barbados TODAY.
“The north of the island is part of the whole supply sector to the agriculture products and you have seen what the ash has done to tree crops and crops in general and that is going to take a while to come back to a state of normalcy. Months, years, maybe.
“So we can see some contraction clearly and that goes not only for crops but livestock, which is also part of the agricultural sector.
How has it impacted fisheries? I don’t know.”
More than 20,000 residents, primarily from the northern sections of the island have been displaced because of the ongoing eruption and are for the most part dependent on government assistance.
Throughout the pandemic, businesses have been trying to absorb their losses and keep people employed, Regisford said. But with commerce sure to slow down even more because of the displacement, he said he was unsure how much more businesses can take.
“So apart from the hospitality, which, by default literally closed, we were able to keep quite a few people employed in the private sector. Can this be sustained now that we have the volcanic eruption on top of the pandemic? That would largely depend on where the money is spent in this relief and rebuilding exercise,” the chamber chair told Barbados TODAY.
“Right now, we have at least 12,000 people in shelters, another 8,000 dislocated some way or the other, so the immediate effort is to provide relief and to make those people comfortable and give them some sort of reason to wake up.
“The conversations that we need to have going forward about how we will address the economic impact, we haven’t started to have those yet, but it’s hoped that we will get engaged. The workforce, the state, and the private sector have to have those conversations and include our development partners, the external agencies that assist with the whole business of economic development.
If I have to live at the behest of a handout, food package, and not earning my keep, that’s not the nicest thing and I don’t wish it on anybody. So in the short term, you’re going to have some of that, but in the medium to long term, I hope we can get out as quickly as possible the way the building funds are directed and taken care of.”