Less than ten days ago, Hurricane Ivan struck our island with vicious force.
This resulted in loss of life and widespread damage islandwide to our homes, churches, schools, farms and places of business.
The hurricane destroyed Grenada.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Cayman Islands and Cuba suffered severe damage from Ivan. It has left a trail of destruction in the Southern States of the USA. We extend our sympathy and solidarity to all those who have been battered by this deadly hurricane.
I am sure that everyone joins me in extending deep sympathy to those who lost loved ones, friends and neighbours here in Jamaica. We are assisting with the funeral arrangements for these victims and will provide much needed assistance for the family members through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
Although the challenge is formidable, with characteristic Jamaican resilience and determination we can rebuild our lives and our country. That is exactly what we have begun to do.
Already, during these first ten days, we have made measurable and commendable progress.
Leading his team, the Hon. Dean Peart who has portfolio responsibility, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the dedicated and hard-working staff of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the National Met Service.
Along with the hard-pressed Security Forces – the JCF, the ISCF and the JDF – they worked around the clock before and during the hurricane. Others like the Fire Brigade, the Health Services, Solid Waste Management and the National Works Agency (NWA), have continued to put in long hard hours in the nation’s interest. The members of the media deserve our special commendation for helping to maintain a sense of calm throughout.
We concentrated as a first priority on search and rescue operations for people marooned in various small communities; in meeting the basic needs of those persons who suffered the most severe and disruptive damage and providing temporary shelter, food and water.
The NWA began clearing our roads and the JPSCo then moved to begin restoring the power supply. Rapidly thereafter, the National Water Commission (NWC) got to work, piping water to homes, businesses and communities.
They have made a very fine start.
In less than one week, by last Friday: * the NWA had cleared 330 of the 642 roads across the island that were blocked. * 270,000 JPS customers already had their service restored.
This work is still in progress.
You must understand that we have to give priority to hospitals and other essential services and to critical economic sectors so that production of vital goods and services can resume quickly. * 150 of the 400 water systems had been put back in operation by the NWC. For other areas where the water supply has not yet been restored, Rapid Response is trucking water daily to communities islandwide.
Initial assessments show that many schools have been badly damaged. More schools will re-open tomorrow. Boards, Principals and Staff of other educational institutions which have been severely damaged, are making every effort to restore those to a condition which will allow for their re-opening in the shortest possible time.
There are some far-reaching problems that we need to manage immediately and well:
We must provide relief to those who suffered substantial damage to their homes, who lost not only their personal belongings but also their means of livelihood.
The task of reconstructing our infrastructure, our economic and social facilities is urgent.
Several districts have been cut off completely.
Supplies of food, water and other basic necessities have been airlifted to the residents. Work is continuing around the clock to clear and repair all the access roads.
ODPEM is still operating a number of shelters which will continue to function until arrangements are made for alternative temporary housing.
Assessment teams have been deployed to determine and verify damage to housing, farms and other property. Some of the new housing which has to be constructed cannot be allowed where nature and plain commonsense forbid this.
We have strengthened the capabilities of ODPEM to ensure the highest level of efficiency in the prompt delivery of relief. Additional support in the management of the entire system is now in place.
The JDF will be in charge of security and logistical support for the delivery of material supplies.
I have established a unit within the Cabinet office – The Office of National Reconstruction (ONR) – to oversee and coordinate the reconstruction programme. It is already up and running with Danville Walker at the helm.
A broad-based Board of Trustees has been appointed to guide the work of the Unit and promote the partnership between Government, the Private Sector, our Trade Unions, the Church, Voluntary Organisations and our Political Parties. This is no time for partisan bickering.
I want to express our gratitude for the overwhelming local and international response to the crisis. Help is pouring in from our Jamaican family overseas; the local and international private sector; from churches, from regional and foreign governments; from international aid agencies and NGOs. Our Embassies and Consulates are hard at work in mobilizing external support.
While the restoration of utilities is proceeding well, the hurricane is bound to have a negative effect on our overall economic situation. Even with the considerable assistance that we are receiving, there will be the need for increased expenditure to cover relief efforts and for reconstruction.
We can hardly afford any further loss of production.
The damage to farming everywhere and our fishermen has been extensive and will hurt domestic food supplies. We are concentrating our efforts to get production back to normal in as short a time as possible.
There are adequate supplies of food and petroleum products available to meet our present requirements.
We have sufficient foreign exchange reserves to satisfy the additional import bill.
At the same time, the government is prepared to respond swiftly and decisively to any attempt at price gouging. If it becomes necessary to take drastic action, we will not shirk our duty in accordance with the Law.
Our target is to shorten the time it will take to recover full earnings from the tourism and bauxite sectors.
Our external creditors have been assured that all our obligations will be met when they become due. The confidence of the private capital market in Jamaica’s economy is amply demonstrated by the fact that our bond prices are still trading at the pre-hurricane levels.
Only when we have a precise estimate of the cost of reconstruction, will we be able to give a clear indication of what adjustments, if any, will have to be made to our economic targets for the rest of the fiscal year and for the medium term. Our goal is to restore production capabilities in as short a time frame as possible so that the momentum in economic activity we enjoyed in the first eight months of this year is quickly regained.
We will keep the investment pipeline flowing.
Our development projects, including construction of new hotels, are continuing on track. We sent a strong signal that Jamaica remains open for business by the remarkably short time we took to re-open our two international airports.
On Tuesday, when the House resumes, I will be making a full report to Parliament on the decisions of Cabinet relating to policy issues and programmes which affect the relief and reconstruction drive.
The Minister of Finance will reveal the projections pertaining to the economic impact of the hurricane.
In my visits to several of the communities which suffered severe damage, I noticed many persons who were showing admirable grit and initiative in putting their lives quickly back together. As so many of you did in preparing for the hurricane, once again please reach out a helping hand and show that remarkable spirit of love and caring which is the Jamaican way. In all of this we must not forget those who are still suffering from the traumatic experience.
As we continue the restoration of services and get the reconstruction programme fully going, we all have to exercise some patience. Everything cannot be finished in an instant. Remember that the workers who are at the forefront of this major undertaking have been giving their all, often at the expense of their own families.
Let us all determine to become a part of this vital national effort. There are many ways in which each of us can assist.
You can simply help your neighbour who may be in trouble.
You can help to restore your, schools, churches and community facilities. You can help with cleaning up your neighbourhood.
Those who can, please make a contribution, no matter how small, to the Hurricane Relief Fund.
Those who cannot donate money, give some of your precious time.
Our love for our country is boundless. Our spirit is strong. Our self-confidence is clearly evident. Now is a time for unity of purpose, as together, with the help of the Almighty, we rebuild Jamaica, this blessed and beautiful land we love.
Less than ten days ago, Hurricane Ivan struck our island with vicious force.