THE HAGUE (Netherlands) – If a new disaster occurs in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom, the Netherlands will be prepared. That is the conclusion of the Dutch Leeward Islands Reconstruction Policy Audit. This investigation into the efficiency and effectiveness of the emergency aid following hurricanes Irma and Maria was commissioned by the government and relates to the period between 2017 and 2021. Due to the huge impact of hurricanes in this part of the Kingdom, the government wanted to find out what would be the best approach for emergency aid and for the reconstruction work on the islands in the Caribbean.
The Leeward Islands of St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius were severely affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. The Netherlands provided initial emergency aid via the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK). The researchers have concluded that the response by the Ministry of BZK was relatively good, despite the limited preparation time and experience with leading and coordinating a crisis of this magnitude. For example, the main roads, airports and port on St. Maarten were quickly operational again. Emergency aid was provided successfully on Saba and St. Eustatius and reconstruction work started quickly. The reconstruction work on St. Maarten is still ongoing and researchers are positive about how the large-scale infrastructure projects, which are being organised via the St. Maarten Reconstruction Trust Fund, are progressing.
Nevertheless, improvements could be made. For example, the researchers recommend reflecting properly in advance about the amount of support needed from the Netherlands. Requests for aid from the islands must be formulated more clearly. Other recommendations relate to helping the islands prepare for emergencies, the development of emergency aid and reconstruction plans and the proper organisation of internal documentation about the emergency aid offered. The researchers also highlight the importance of more, and more effective, communication with the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom.
After the emergency aid phase BZK implemented changes based on evaluations to improve the Dutch response to future disasters. For example, a crisis team was set up and a Crisis Management Handbook for the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom was drafted together with the Ministry of Justice and Security. A roadmap is being worked on which is intended to provide an insight into, among other things, the goals to be achieved and the impact and the outcomes in the context of emergency aid.
The reconstruction work on Saba and St. Eustatius has been completed, but work on St. Maarten is still going on. In June 2022 the St. Maarten Reconstruction Trust Fund was extended until the end of 2028 and that was deemed to be a positive move in the policy audit because it means there will be enough time for the careful completion of the reconstruction projects. The Netherlands is also helping St. Maarten prepare for future crises by making knowledge and expertise available and by reinforcing and supporting partnerships with, among others, the World Bank.
The government’s aim is to implement all the recommendations and improvements before the start of the new hurricane season in June 2023.