In February, Dr Friday, president of the New Democratic Party (NDP), put together a team, called the Rapid Response Team, headed by Major St. Clair Leacock to manage the relief effort of the party in the event that there was an explosive eruption at the La Soufriere, Volcano. Major Leacock has tremendous knowledge and experience in disaster management, having undergone training, locally, regionally and internationally in disaster management. He was also in charge of the evacuation process of the 1979 La Soufriere eruption. We knew that the party would have a crucial role to play in the event that the volcano erupted explosively.
On 9th April, explosive eruption began at La Soufriere, Volcano. Thousands of Vincentians were evacuated from North Leeward, North Windward and North Central Windward constituencies at very short notice. Some persons are in emergency shelters, some have been staying at hotels and guest houses, while others are staying with relatives and friends.
During the past weeks, we have seen the power of the volcano, the explosive eruptions have ejected materials including ash to the extent that the whole country has been blanketed in ash. Our neighbouring islands have also been covered with ash. There has been severe water shortage as well. Our brothers and sisters who have been displaced are in need of our help.
Immediately after the eruption commenced, the NDP began to execute its plans in managing the relief effort. The Relief Telethon was launched and the response was great. Then we began to distribute food stuff, water and other essentials to evacuees at our headquarters in Kingstown. Supplies have been taken also to evacuees in private homes and emergency shelters, so far hundreds of persons have benefited from the program. And, the party’s organs in the diaspora, for example, SPOONY, has been playing an integral part.
Each parliamentary representative and caretakers of constituencies are actively involved in the process of visiting and assessing emergency shelters in their constituencies and distributing food stuff and other supplies. Special mention must be made of Senator Shevern John, Vice President, Patel Matthews and Chieftain Neptune who have been visiting all the shelters where persons from their respective constituencies are residing. Other members of our party have been working assiduously at the shelters. Some have been working as shelter managers and deputy shelter managers. The South Leeward constituency office has been designated as an emergency shelter. And, the constituencies of the Northern and Southern Grenadines have been actively involved by sending supplies to the mainland. Further, Dr. Friday and other members of the party have visited the affected areas on the island and have seen for themselves the devastation that has caused by the eruption.
We applaud the effort that has been made by Caricom, the international community and regional and international organizations. And, commend the effort by the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) thus far. The NDP is cognizant of the needs and challenges that the evacuees are faced with and will continue to play a meaningful role in helping to meet the needs of these people. Bearing in mind, that there has been serious economic and social challenges in this country prior to the eruption of La Soufriere, Volcano.
General state of the country before the eruption
(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Budget presentation)
We face major challenges: the biggest is COVID-19 pandemic; the threat of volcanic eruption which Dr. Robertson said could happen without warning, though hopefully there will be enough time to get people out; higher than usual rates of infection and death from dengue fever, a preventable disease, eight (8) persons have died, including children and an uncertain hurricane season which begins in five (5) months. We keep comforting ourselves by acknowledging that we are blessed, but we must not be complacent. The risk is there and we must prepare for it.
In addition, the pre-COVID-19 persistent maladies of the government: low economic growth, lowest in the OECS; lack of diversity in the economy; limited capacity to resist and recover from external shocks; growing poverty, including indigence; high rates of unemployment, over 50% for youth; unacceptably high levels of crime, two (2) homicides have already been committed for this year and the lack of opportunities and an enabling environment for flowering of ideas and nurturing of entrepreneurship especially for our young people.
Since the emergence of COVID-19, all the problems have gotten worse. Existing vulnerabilities and inequities in our economy and society have been exposed. All the government has offered us in the guise of solutions, are short sighted initiatives to plaster the sores, rather than remedies to treat the deep-rooted problems. Poor resilience of our country is laid bare and exposed with no credible or convincing strategic response from the government. Instead, everything is a political spin; everything is done through political lens.
Further, the lack of support to the private sector at this critical juncture is very much in keeping with this government’s long record of antagonism towards the private sector. At no point has any incentive been provided to the private sector to maintain employment, because it is not politically expedient. Government prefers to offer them a small payment from the NIS, and move on, so they know it is coming from government and they would be grateful and dependent.
Also, outrageously high levels of unemployment made worse by the pandemic; unnecessary exposure of the indigent, aged and most vulnerable segments of the society to the ravages of COVID-19 through government’s timid and ineffective response. Our people are in a state of heightened concern over the situation. Meanwhile, the government is on cruise control with no credible and meaningful res