Relief organisations, ministries thanked on anniversary of Irma | THE DAILY HERALD

THE HAGUE–A well-attended “thank you” luncheon with a solemn yet inspiring character was held at the Cabinet of the St. Maarten Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague on Thursday as part of the National Day of Reflection one year after Hurricane Irma.

Minister Plenipotentiary Jorien Wuite and her staff, including new Cabinet Director Christ’l Larmonie, received representatives of the various Dutch ministries, the Aruba and Curaçao governments, non-governmental organisations and others who played a role in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, to express St. Maarten’s deep appreciation for their contributions after the hurricane and to exchange experiences.

In her speech, Wuite reflected on what had happened on September 6 and the days, weeks and months afterward.

“We moved from Irma to emergency relief, to the immediate needs early recovery projects, to now post-Irma. So many of you played and still play a critical and important role in our recovery process,” she said, addressing the guests at the Cabinet in The Hague.

“Through your many initiatives big and small, St. Maarteners have been encouraged to continue the road to recovery, be it due to the aid of materials, manpower from Dutch and international agencies and funds, or to programmes for various at-risk groups such as the elderly, the unemployed, children or low-income families.”

Wuite made special mention of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK, Defence, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science OCW, the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports VWS and the Ministry of Justice and Security. She also thanked the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF Nederland, the Netherlands Red Cross and all the other organisations that helped out.

“Here, in the Netherlands, you must have been in shock, far away at a distance of more than 7,000 kilometres, with, in the first few days, minimal communication, worried about family and friends. You must have felt frustrated at times with chaotic circumstances and at the same time you gave it your all with the sincere and driven need to want to contribute and to provide aid to assist with the impact of this enormous natural disaster,” said Wuite.

Outpouring of support
“The Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary experienced your outpouring of support and assistance, be it through government, civil society or international agencies. This has enabled St. Maarten to regroup, refocus and start the rebuilding process faster than other Caribbean islands affected by the hurricanes. The determination to rebuild better and stronger in all aspects, including strengthening of our social fabric, was made possible through your involvement and commitment to help us get back on our feet,” she said.
Wuite gave an overview of the funds that so far have been secured through the World Bank, which manages the 550-million-euro Trust Fund financed by the Dutch government. Three grant agreements have been concluded with the World Bank. A total amount of US $102.7 million has been allocated for projects that serve to address some of the most urgent needs of the St. Maarten people in the coming years.

The first grant concerns $55.2 million for Emergency Recovery Project I, consisting of, among other things, the repair of public shelters, support for the repairs of severely damaged houses of low-income families, increasing the resilience of the electricity and water systems, and strengthening the emergency response capacities of the Fire Department and other first responders.

The project will also support the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) and repair a number of critical public buildings, including the Philipsburg police station, the Fire Department building and several public schools.

The second grant agreement for $22.5 million will support the implementation of a new Social Registry System and will finance the Emergency Income Support and Training Programme which focuses on the economic sectors that were hit hard by the hurricane and provides participants with certification opportunities, income support and health insurance. The programme, which runs until June 2020, strengthens the participants’ position in the labour market and will benefit the island’s economic recovery in the long term.

The third grant agreement of $25 million was signed last week for St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) with the objective to upgrade the design of the new hospital to withstand category 5-plus hurricanes.

Landfill project
In addition, the St. Maarten government and the World Bank are preparing two other major projects, one being the Emergency Debris Management Project. This project of about $25 million, which is in the final stages of preparation, consists of activities to clear the remaining hurricane debris and to remove shipwrecks in Simpson Bay Lagoon.

The project also seeks to close down the “Irma dump” and to manage the landfill more effectively, specifically focusing on improved management of construction and demolition waste. One of the top priorities in the Emergency Debris Management Project will be suppression of the ongoing fires on the landfill, Wuite explained.

Secretary-General for Kingdom Relations Henk Brons of the BZK Ministry said everyone still had the images of devastation caused by Hurricane Irma fresh in their minds and no one would ever forget these.

One Kingdom
The hurricane resulted in prompt action by the Netherlands, Aruba and Curaçao.
“This was the moment to show that we are one Kingdom. What happened in St. Maarten was horrendous, but it also brought up beautiful things, the feeling of being one Kingdom. Things always move at a slower pace than one would want, but up to this day, a lot is happening. The recovery will take a long time, but we have to continue together working hard to build a stronger St. Maarten. Doing nothing is not an option,” said Brons.

Red Cross and UNICEF representatives spoke about the work they have done and are still doing in St. Maarten, including providing school meals, handing out supermarket and hardware-store vouchers, and giving psychosocial assistance to children.

“For some children, the lootings were more traumatic than the hurricane itself,” said La-Toya Charles of UNICEF Nederland, who emphasised that UNICEF was there to make sure that children were part of the recovery process and that their rights were looked after.
Red Cross International Relief Assistance Director Juriaan Lahr explained how the close to 20 million euros collected in the Netherlands was being spent to assist the people, in particular the more vulnerable groups in society. “It is an enormous responsibility to spend it right.” He said it had been a challenge to locate the most-needy people.
Aruba Minister Plenipotentiary Guillfred Besaril and Curaçao Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary Eunice Eisden expressed words of solidarity.

“Aruba will always be a friend that you can count on,” said Besaril.
“As a sister island, we will always be ready to help. We hope to keep fostering and sharing that solidarity within the Kingdom,” said Eisden.

There was a special moment for the presentation of a painting by St. Maarten artist and cultural ambassador Ruby Bute. Her painting, depicting a mother and her young son in front of their house damaged by the hurricane, arrived in the Netherlands on Monday. The gift to the Dutch relief workers will be framed first and then displayed at one or more Dutch ministries and the Dutch Parliament.

Thursday’s gathering ended with a minute of silence for the hurricane victims and the broadcasting of the live speech of St. Maarten Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin.

Source: The Daily Herald