Members of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Dutch Second Chamber of Parliament Joba van den Berg (right), Roelien Kamminga (third from right) and Jorien Wuite (left) talk with State Secretary Van Huffelen (second from right) after Thursday’s debate. (Suzanne Koelega photo)
THE HAGUE–The lessons learned from the reconstruction period after Hurricane Irma devastated St. Maarten early September 2017 have better prepared the Dutch government for possible next crises/disasters.
Dutch State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitisation Alexandra van Huffelen said this in a debate with the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Dutch Second Chamber of Parliament on Thursday.
During this committee debate, Member of Parliament (MP) Jorien Wuite of the Democratic Party D66 asked the state secretary which lessons were learned from the financing construction of the St. Maarten Reconstruction and Resilience Trust Fund via the World Bank and whether she was willing to work with direct financing in the future, for example, to St. Maarten’s National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB).
Van Huffelen replied that at this time, she could not say anything about future financing of reconstruction projects. She noted that the collaboration with the World Bank and St. Maarten was good and that in case a disaster like a major hurricane were to happen, the Netherlands would assess the situation together with the country in question as to what worked best in that particular situation.
The recent policy assessment of Article 8 of the Kingdom Relations budget, the reconstruction of the Windward Islands, focused on what lessons could be learned and how to increase effectiveness in future crises, also by making more use of local and regional options for assistance, the state secretary explained.
MP Roelien Kamminga of the liberal democratic VVD party wanted to know if the Dutch government was sufficiently prepared if another crisis were to arise and whether a mechanism would be in place for a quicker response. The state secretary said that although one could never be 100% ready for a disaster, the Dutch government was now better prepared than before Hurricane Irma.
MP Kauthar Bouchallikht of the green left party GroenLinks asked why there had been such a large gap between the early recovery, the Trust Fund and the execution of reconstruction projects. Bouchallikht was critical of the “harsh conditions” that the Dutch government set for reconstruction aid. “They were political decisions instead of decisions based on the mutual assistance clause in the Charter.”
Van Huffelen confirmed that it took a while to transition from early recovery assistance to St. Maarten after Hurricane Irma to structural reconstruction aid via the Trust Fund. The limited local capacity and the discussions on how best to format the structural aid contributed to the long preparation time.
Van Huffelen explained that preparing and starting up large projects took a while. “We want to look at how to do this faster and to facilitate a smoother transition from early recovery to reconstruction projects. But a solid reconstruction takes time.”
According to the state secretary, much also depended on the assistance request from the
country in need. “We are always willing to help, but it starts with the country’s request. At the time of Hurricane Irma, it was, in the first instance, not entirely clear what the exact request for assistance was,” she said.
A crisis management handbook is being drafted with the input of various Dutch ministries. Stakeholders such as Defence, the Fire Department, Disaster Management and representatives from the islands were in The Hague last week to come to an agreement on how the countries will assist each other in case of a disaster or crisis. The handbook will also include information about country requests for assistance.
MP Wuite asked if the Second Chamber could see the crisis management handbook and whether the state secretary could indicate what efficient assistance requests would have to look like to prevent political decisions.
Wuite pointed out that the early recovery activities were mainly successful because of the knowledge and leadership of local St. Maarten organisations. She said she found it very worrisome that a number of reconstruction projects in the social area were taking so long. “Five years later there is still no library and only three of the 18 schools have been repaired. That is unacceptable. It creates risks for young people and for quality education.”
Wuite said in her introductory remarks that since 2017, the state secretary for Kingdom Relations and the Caribbean countries have often been in a crisis mode, and that while many good things took place, there were also difficult moments with strained relations. “The central questions I want to ask in this debate are: which lessons did we learn from these crises and did we emerge more resilient in terms of mutual relations and cooperation?”
St. Maarten Minister Plenipotentiary Rene Violenus and staff members of his cabinet were present during Thursday’s debate in the Second Chamber.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/the-hague-now-better-prepared-if-another-hurricane-were-to-hit