As I rise this afternoon, I reflect on the words of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit in addressing the 2017 United Nations General Assembly; “Let these extraordinary events elicit extraordinary efforts to rebuild nations sustainably”.
I have great confidence that as a region we will rebuild and we will not just replicate what was there before.
The approach will be a systematic one of renewal; with planned structured development; with stronger homes and supporting amenities, infrastructure that can withstand hurricane force winds of the likes of Irma and Maria and better roads and communication systems.
Mr. Speaker, we pray for all our brothers and sisters who have been impacted and remind them that there is hope and that out of adversity will come opportunity.
Mr. Speaker, in my conversation with Prime Minister Skerrit, I was deeply moved by his depth of emotion and unwavering strength, and I pledged Jamaica’s full support in whatever way possible.
I will go into the details of our support shortly. We must reach out regional brothers and sisters in whatever way we can and I am sure we are all mindful that “there but for the Grace of God go we”. Indeed, with regularity of global events of this magnitude, now more than ever we must be our brothers’ keepers.
We again extend our sympathies to all countries which were impacted by what has been described as the “brutality and ferocity” of these recent Hurricanes which left a trail of destruction never before seen in the Caribbean.
So far official figures show Hurricane Irma caused 102 deaths overall with 45 of those deaths occurring in the Caribbean with the cost for damage currently at US$62.9 billion. Hurricane Maria caused 56 fatalities and (with at least 33 persons still noted as missing).
For Hurricane Maria, Dominica recorded the highest number of fatalities with 27 followed by Puerto Rico with 24. Damage cost for Hurricane Maria is listed at US$50.1 billion and still increasing.
Mr. Speaker, I must also mention that our hearts go out in prayer to Mexico.
Mr. Speaker, there is a growing concern that coordination needs to be rapidly enhanced so that we are better prepared to respond to events of this magnitude that could have political, economic and socially destabilizing consequences.
I am sure everyone in the room will recall what is now almost my mantra; that we must make our region truly independent so that while we welcome external assistance; we do not need to rely on it.
Mr. Speaker, Jamaica has provided support to our nationals living in the eastern Caribbean who have been impacted and have also airlifted at a cost of over J$50 million; 200 Jamaicans back home.
The private sector and individual Jamaicans have also provided invaluable assistance to the territories impacted and I must place on record the Government’s deep gratitude for their pro-activeness and generosity.
I note in a recent article where CIBC which has operations in seven islands which were impacted – the British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, and St. Kitts and Nevis – has donated US$450,000 to support organizations providing humanitarian relief to areas impacted by Hurricane Irma.
I may sound repetitive but I really want to highlight the role played by our private sector partners and we applaud them for their significant effort.
The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), as per its mandate, maintains its capability to respond to these adverse weather events and natural phenomena, through the conduct of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations; both internally and across the region.
Jamaica as a member of CARICOM, is a participant in the Regional Response Mechanism (RRM), which sees Jamaica having responsibility as the sub-regional focal point for the North-West Caribbean, including Haiti, Belize, the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI).
So far, we have deployed a Rapid Needs Assessment Team (RNAT), to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, made up of members of the JDF and other agencies and responders to execute a plan for recovery of those islands.
The JDF also has worked tirelessly alongside the ODPEM to collect, store and package relief supplies for onward shipment to the TCI, as Jamaica has reached out to help our neighbours in need.
Members of the JDF were also deployed as part of the CARICOM Disaster Response Unit (CDRU), to provide immediate relief in Tortola (part of the British Virgin Islands), in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. These members remain in the BVI, working tirelessly on behalf of Jamaica and CARICOM.
In keeping with our commitment to Dominica, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the JDF has mobilized its 120-man strong Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) which is being deployed in three phases between today (Tuesday 26 September 2017) and tomorrow Wednesday, 27 September).
As I stand here, I am advised that the first team has landed in the country and the other teams will arrive in Dominica by morning.
This team will be assisting Dominica with:
• The security and distribution of relief supplies,
• the provision of limited medical care,
• basic engineering work with light tools and equipment (inclusive of debris removal and construction of improvised shelters),
• logistics management,
• conducting damage assessments and,
• recovery planning.
We have also committed to supporting the Government of Dominica with a four-man technical and advisory support team led by Colonel Jamie O’Gilvie, as they seek to restore the integrity of their national security systems, and plan for the recovery and rebuilding of their nation.
Jamaica has always leaned forward to help our neighbours in need, and alongside the ODPEM, the JDF has always delivered this capability on behalf of the people and Government of Jamaica.
The Government has also committed to making cash contributions of the Jamaican equivalent of US$100,000 to the redevelopment funds for Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica. Mr. Speaker, Jamaica takes its role in the Caribbean seriously and we will help as much as we are able.
I again urge all of us to continue to be prepared at every level as our hurricane season continues through November.