Attendees at the “First International Conference on Island States/Island Territories” with (from left) Aruba Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes, Aruba Governor Alfonso Boekhoudt and St. Maarten Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin in front row.
ARUBA–Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin shared the St. Maarten story post-Hurricane Irma in her keynote address on “The Character of Resilient Nations: Rising in the face of paralyzing odds”, at the First International Conference on Island States/Island Territories in Aruba last week.
Romeo-Marlin was invited by the University of Prince Edward Island Institute of Island Studies to share St. Maarten’s island experience on resilience and rebuilding efforts, especially as an overseas country/territory (OCT).
In her address, Romeo-Marlin described how St. Maarten was left in a state of paralysis after the 2017 hurricane season. However, the instinctual demand of resiliency propelled the leaders and the people of St. Maarten into a state of survival, which now stands as a testament to the rest of the world in St. Maarten’s record-breaking ability to recover, she shared.
“Resilient people are able to utilise their skills and strengths to cope and recover from problems and challenges. Resilient people handle difficulties in ways that foster strength and growth. In many cases, they may emerge even stronger than they were before,” she said.
She declared St. Maarten as a resilient country “due to the fact that we had no other choice, in order for us to overcome.”
She expounded on the immediate recovery process after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in detail with examples of sacrifices and support of the island’s people, regional and international volunteers who assisted in the evacuation and recovery process.
Many organisations and non-profit organisations were highlighted for their outstanding and inevitable part in restoring the country, in such areas as, power and water distribution, telecommunication, Government response organisations and the private sector as a whole; in particular, all residents who cleaned up their communities and began restoring their homes and those of friends and family members immediately after the storm.
Romeo-Marlin also highlighted St. Maarten’s maritime and aviation sectors for prevailing despite infrastructural challenges, and facilitating the import of humanitarian and emergency supplies and equipment, and, most importantly, the evacuation of special needs patients, the elderly, children, and guests, with the help of foreign partners.
The prime minister also spoke about the financial aspects of recovery, explaining the procedure and prerequisites for receiving money via the Recovery Trust Fund that is financed by the Netherlands, managed by the World Bank and implemented by government via the National Recovery Programme Bureau (NRPB).
She also shared challenges she has faced as chairwoman of the Disaster Management Organisation and offered advice on the best practices that have helped St. Maarten build back its nation in a better way. This included lessons learnt that have been translated into the programmes such as the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP).
“The key to preparation for a disaster is preparation itself; to be prepared is to prepare,” she said, adding that preparation is described as not being a one-man show, as it requires strong domestic, regional and international partnerships and commitments, clear goals, and defined actions.
Despite the setbacks, threats and challenges, St. Maarten has been able to introduce and implement structured programmes and mechanisms using the NRRP as the guideline to meet several of the objectives that align with the framework of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) executed under the theme of “Building Back a Better St. Maarten,” she said.
To initiate steps to regional success, the Dutch OCTs – St. Maarten, Curaçao and Aruba – have established the “Convenant di Savaneta” to tackle economic, social and environmental dimensions that the countries collectively face.
As an extended partnership initiative, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on labour migration within the Dutch Caribbean region was also introduced, aimed at the management of population growth and to stimulate healthy flow of migration. This project will be outlined during the symposium that will take place in Curaçao in May.
Romeo-Marlin urged country representatives to work together by instituting benchmarks for excellence, establishing best practices to achieve effective sustainable development goals and embarking on innovations that foster a more resilient future for their people and build an integrated and empowered region as a whole.
She encouraged everyone to believe in the ability to rise up against all odds by being prepared and working together.
“Together we are stronger, united we are a force, so we must speak with one voice,” she said.