BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – IN a recent address to the people of the Commonwealth of Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said there are three parts to rebuilding the hurricane-ravished island and that they are committed to not building on old vulnerabilities, but creating new resilience.
“It has been 10 days since our homes were shattered, our power cut, our communications silenced and too many of our beloved taken from us. Darkness descended on a night that will forever be a scar on Dominica,” Skerrit told the nation.
Citing one of the things he said at the recently-concluded 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Skerrit said he told the world’s leaders that Dominicans have cried for their people and their land, but they do not despair. “We survey the debris…shocked, but not stooped. We have always stood tall and as long as we remain a single community, we always will.”
PM Skerrit said the first phase of rebuilding Dominica is the immediate rescue of its inhabitants.
“As you know we were able to receive and distribute food, water and other supplies. We now have a consistent flow of food into the country and I expect that with the local business community eager to get back on its feet, very soon normal commercial activity will be restored in Dominica and the majority of you will be able to do your own purchasing.”
He however declared that in the meantime he is committed to ensure that all residents have an adequate and reliable supply of food and drinking water.
“I am happy to report that 10 days after, both our landing strips are now fully functional, even though normal commercial flight activity is hampered by the need to clean up and rehabilitate the terminals and restore reliable power and water services. At this time, I wish to thank LIAT, the Caribbean Airline, for their unflinching commitment to our welfare and wellbeing in the aftermath of the hurricane.
“As soon as it was possible and practical, LIAT was bringing relief supplies and transporting ill and vulnerable citizens out of the country. And, I must stress, for free.”
He assured the people that the island’s airspace would be reopened to limited commercial activities within the next seven days, thanks to an assessment by local and visiting Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation officials.
“The same applies to our seaports, where we have been receiving relief supplies from relatively large boats and the passenger ferries have been plying their trade,” he said. “We expect to begin welcoming large container vessels by next Wednesday.”
With regards to healthcare, PM Skerrit said that the Princess Margaret Hospital is “motoring back”, noting that water and electricity were restored at the medical institution.
“Health Centers around the island are operating to varying degrees, with several shifting to temporary facilities, as a result of wind and water damage,” he added.
Skerrit informed that medical supplies had arrived in Dominica and were sent to all healthcare centers. He noted that in spite of the rubble and the time it took to clear roads and reach some outlying health centers and communities, there had been no outbreak of diseases on the island.
“From an environmental perspective, separate sites have been identified for temporary disposal of galvanize and lumber. We continue to monitor the quality of river water, and water purification tablets are available from health centers.”
He said power is returning to Dominica but it is difficult at this time to hazard a guess as to when full power would be restored in the country…”but, thankfully, the process has started”.
Skerrit also said that telecommunication services are coming back in Roseau and some outer districts, which is indicative of the gradual return to normalcy that one could expect over the course of the next few days and weeks.
Skerrit emphasised that respect for law and order has returned to the country, but the 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. curfew would remain in effect..
“We were all deeply shocked and saddened by the looting that took place after Maria. There is no place for it and we will have no tolerance for it. Thanks to the efforts of the local police force, the Regional Security System and defence forces from around the region, this situation has now been brought under control. Nevertheless, we shall keep the curfew in effect for the time being.”
Some private schools, he said, would be reopened on a limited scale next week, but for the vast majority of students and teachers, there is no place to call theirs, as most schools, if not severely damaged or destroyed, are being utilised as shelters for people who lost their homes or whose homes are not sufficiently mended to permit their return.
In an effort to facilitate accommodation for displaced students, Skerrit said that a major institution and a number of private individuals have promised to provide temporary facilities for the recommencement of classes.
“I have been in discussion with several friends of Dominica, including the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions, to which 75, 000 individuals and entities in Dominica are accredited. They are lending a helping hand and together with some other private individuals, we shall be seeking to provide a desk and a chair, as well as adequate temporary shelter for many of our students, particularly fourth and fifth formers as well as all primary school students on island. Current shipping challenges notwithstanding, I am hoping to have temporary schooling facilities in place to augment those that can use their existing plant, by October 15.”
The Prime Minister said that the roadways are being cleared at a very rapid rate and he expressed gratitude to “our brothers and sisters from neighbouring Caribbean islands, France and Venezuela. We expect to have full, unfettered access to all areas of the country by the latter part of next week”.
He also expressed gratitude to the UN for honouring his request and member States of the Caribbean region as well as those countries beyond for their assistance.
“To support the rescue, at the United Nations General Assembly last weekend, I requested and have received airplanes, helicopters and experts in the co-ordination of rescue operations. There are now, on island, representatives from several nations across the Globe. For this, we are very appreciative and eternally grateful.
“In this regard, also, we must thank our Caribbean brothers and sisters for the assistance they have so willingly rendered and our international partners beyond Caribbean shores. The time will come when we will show our fulsome appreciation to each and everyone, but that time is not today; other than to say that on the morning of September 19, Maria tested the resolve of Dominicans, our Caribbean neighbours and the rest of the world, and all have passed this test.”
He claimed that the rescue phase of the island’s journey is now sufficiently effective and mature that residents could spare time to plan and draw down the next phase of the journey, which is centered around the social and economic recovery.
“We know that in this phase the government must play a central role in reviving expenditure, but that it must do so in a fiscally credible manner. Within the limits of government revenues, we will maximise the impact of the government in maintaining domestic expenditure. We are doing so already and we make a commitment going forward to maintain government employment and wages.”
He pointed out that in addition to the government budget, his administration is also considering a series of measures to support the spending of those immensely weakened by Maria, and that might include direct social payments, small loans, or advances on salaries and pension payments.
Skerrit intimated that the government of Dominica understands that alongside the tragedies are opportunities for rebuilding and that it is also looking at existing legislation to ensure that it is not inadvertently and needlessly blocking or delaying activities that could help to rebuild the country better and quicker.
“In this regard, we are pleased, indeed, overwhelmed by the expressions of interest by the domestic and regional private sectors in the rebuilding phase of our country. Many have contributed generously to our rescue efforts and now we look forward to them lending of their expert advice and technical capabilities as together we labour to build back better.”
He said the final part of the rebuilding process is to ensure that they build a stronger and climate resilient Dominica.
“To this end, we are working with our international partners to not just rebuild but to consider carefully where we build, what we build and how we build. The international community has reacted very positively to our desire to do so, to be the captains of our fate and to choose the shape of our recovery.
PM Skerrit told the nation that there are still some niggling problems that need to be aggressively tackled and resolved, but he is satisfied that with the commitment and determination of service providers in Dominica and with the continued advice and assistance from neighbouring Caribbean islands and the wider international community, the people of Dominica would overcome Hurricane Maria.
“There have been some unfortunate moments ever since this disaster struck, but I urge you to put these behind you and focus on the task ahead. None alive has had to grapple with the realities of a Category 5 Hurricane. No manual could have prepared us for this. We are all on a learning curb, but, commitment and determination can and must win out.”