THE HAGUE–Concrete assistance for victims of Hurricane Irma will certainly have a place in the distribution of the Dutch reconstruction aid, said Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops at the end of his visit to St. Maarten over the weekend.
In an interview with correspondent **** Drayer of the Dutch national broadcasting company NOS, Knops that the aspect of the daily lives of the St. Maarten people will definitely receive the necessary attention in the reconstruction projects funded by the Dutch Government.
Knops said that the intention was that “true improvement” was made to people’s lives – people have lost their roof and are now living under a tarpaulin or another makeshift structure to keep out the elements. He was able to see the needs of the victims with his own eyes during his visit to St. Maarten last week.
The State Secretary said that money would go not only towards large projects, but also to projects that were geared at improving the living conditions of people such as providing social housing and the basic necessities, including water and food. “The situation is far from normal. There is a lot to be done,” he told the NOS. He said that speed was imperative to start with the recovery and that tourism needed to get off the ground fast.
Knops emphasised that this concerned a joint effort with the St. Maarten Government, which has to give an indication of the vital projects that are necessary to rebuild the island. “I have emphatically asked the Government to come with a list of projects.”
The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector also have a role to play in the recovery process. “I sense enthusiasm in the private sector to participate. The NGOs can greatly contribute to the strengthening of the social fabric,” he said.
The Netherlands will also look at how and where best to spend the funds, he added. The deal with the World Bank to execute the Reconstruction Fund is still under negotiation. “The World Bank would love to do this. They are well-equipped and have vast experience in this area,” said Knops.
While in St. Maarten, Knops met with St. Martin Préfète Délégée Anne Laubies to discuss cooperation between the two sides of the island in the recovery. He said that soon he would have a meeting with French Overseas Minister Annick Girardin to discuss cooperation with the French Government. He mentioned that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had already spoken with French President Emmanuel Macron on this matter.
“We want to cooperate. Under the [William – Ed.] Marlin Government, the contacts with the French side had subsided. It is important to again build on those relations. That is in everybody’s interest for it is one island,” said Knops. He said there were several joint challenges and possibilities for cooperation in, for example, waste management, waste water management, utilities, tourism and agriculture.
The job is immense, said the State Secretary. “It is a true disaster with a lot of damage,” he said, reconfirming the Netherlands’ commitment to help St. Maarten and its people. The Dutch Government has reserved 550 million euros for the reconstruction. Pending the St. Maarten Government’s formal approval of the Dutch conditions, the recovery programme will start as soon as possible.
It concerns a very big amount, money that is paid for by the Dutch taxpayers, and as such strict control was necessary, he said. The amount that the Netherlands has reserved is twice the gross domestic product (GDP) of St. Maarten.
Asked by the NOS correspondent whether 550 million euros was sufficient, Knops said: “Considering what is taking place, one would almost say that it is never enough. But for the time being this is an enormous amount. No other country is investing as much as the Netherlands is. We feel the responsibility to help and together with everyone we will rebuild in a sustainable manner. We will see at the end whether it is enough.”