Published On: Mon, Oct 30th, 2017

St. Maarten Governor suggests Kingdom Disaster Recovery Fund

Eugene-Holiday-SXMTHE HAGUE - A Kingdom Disaster Recovery Fund with the input of all partners in the Kingdom to help mitigate the consequences of global warming – St. Maarten Governor Eugene Holiday made this suggestion during a meet-and-greet with St. Maarteners in The Hague on Thursday evening.

Close to 50 St. Maarteners, young and old, gathered at St. Maarten House on the invitation of Minister Plenipotentiary Henrietta Doran-York eager to hear an update from the Governor about the developments since the extremely powerful Hurricane Irma hit the island on September 6.

Hurricanes are not the only force that St. Maarten and many other Caribbean islands are increasingly faced with, but they also have huge challenge besides rebuilding its infrastructure and economy: global warming. With global warming and stronger hurricanes, there is an increased risk for all partners in the Kingdom.

Holiday said it seemed wise to have a fund on a Kingdom level – a structural approach in place to respond effectively and to have all partners contribute instead of looking at one major partner, the Netherlands, after a natural disaster. “That way we will strengthen our preparedness and effectiveness in the handling of future situations,” Holiday told a very attentive audience.

According to the Governor, the further development and handling of the St. Maarten Recovery Plan drafted by the St. Maarten Government should be viewed as part of the larger challenge to mitigate the negative effects of global warming to the island and its people. “This is a critical matter which requires an urgent solution for the current problems as well as a long-term solution.”

Holiday expressed confidence that the current stand-off between The Hague and Philipsburg would be resolved soon. “I am convinced that this external assistance will come,” he said.

He noted that it was important to pool the resources and to be effective. “You can achieve much more together than alone; through concerted national action in collaboration with the Kingdom and the international partners I am convinced that we will rebound stronger.”

The Governor explained that St. Maarten’s hurricane-devastated economy will need a significant capital injection to jump-start, rebuild and recover. A work group, established by the St. Maarten Government, has prepared a national recovery plan for the island. In its interim-report the work group has estimated the damages to the local infrastructure at some US $1.8 billion.

“As a people, individually and collectively, we are faced with a major challenge going forward. Experience has taught us that we have no control over the passing of hurricanes, but by being smart we can control how we respond and mitigate the effects.

“As we take up this challenge it is important that we stay focused and united in the task at hand; a task that calls for us to rebuild a stronger more sustainable general and economic infrastructure to better respond to future stronger hurricanes, caused by the effects of climate change. Anchored in sound general and financial governance, St. Maarten’s Recovery Plan should result by necessity to include a number of measures,” he said.

These measures are: stronger building codes for homes, businesses and public facilities with the required enforcement; restructuring of the water production and distribution network to reduce its vulnerability to the effects of hurricanes; completion of the ongoing programme of placing the electrical network underground; restructuring of the telecommunication network to reduce its vulnerability for the effects of hurricanes, and a redevelopment towards a more climate robust economic and tourism product and strategy.

Holiday said it was “imperative” to develop a “comprehensive, well-coordinated recovery programme.” “It is obvious that St. Maarten will need additional external support to help make the execution of such a programme possible. History has taught us that we will need assistance.”

The Governor mentioned as example Hurricane Luis, 22 years ago. At that time a so-called Short Term Economic Assessment and Recovery Programme was developed and the island received substantial financial support from the Netherlands to help rebuild.

“But, we can also draw from the European experience of about 70 years ago. At that time the four-year European Recovery Programme, commonly known as the Marshall Plan, was developed and executed. In that plan the United States gave some US $132 billion in economic support, in current dollar value, to help rebuild the war-devastated European economies after World War II. By reviewing those cases we can draw important lessons from the approaches and structures used in those situations.”

Solidarity, hard work and resilience are key words in the rebuilding of St. Maarten in the hard times ahead. “Going forward we will need to build on that same hardworking, resilient spirit of our people and on the solidarity of others. We will need everyone to join in to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure and economy one day at a time. One day at a time to regain the economic fallout and expected loss in foreign exchange from tourism, loss in employment and loss in government revenues,” Holiday said.
The Governor gave an update of the situation after the hurricane in terms of damage and restoration. He thanked all volunteers and organisations – local, Caribbean and international for their vital assistance. In particular, he thanked the Kingdom partners: the Netherlands, Aruba and Curaçao, whom he said have made “invaluable contributions” through the deployment of military personnel and police officers. “To all who contributed and continue to do so, I say thank you for your service to the St. Maarten people.”

After his enlightening speech, the audience at the St. Maarten House had the opportunity to ask questions and many did so, with vigour and aptitude. What if another hurricane comes how can St. Maarten sustain itself without the revenues from tourism; what can the St. Maarteners in the Netherlands do to help; what does the St. Maarten Government do for those who lost their homes; what to do with the informal sector – the shanty towns and those that do not have the money to rebuild a home in accordance with the new building code?

Holiday took the time to answer the questions one by one and to explain the situation to the best of his ability in his capacity as Governor. As for the severely affected economy and tourism sector, he said that financially and economically the challenges would be major, with the economy contracting. “It is going to be very tough.”

Asked by a St. Maarten student what was being done to mitigate the damage to the environment and about the pollution and the waste, Holiday said that the environment was under “severe stress” and that the management of waste and debris was a “major challenge that would demand a special approach.”
The Governor called on the St. Maarteners in the Netherlands to be ambassadors for their island and to help wherever possible. After his presentation and the question and answer session those present had the opportunity to talk with Holiday.

Minister Plenipotentiary Doran-York and members of her cabinet presented a large cake to Holiday as an expression of thanks.

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