Saturday 9th April, 2022, marked one year of the explosive phase of the La Soufriere volcanic eruption. One year after, we reflect on the challenges that we encountered during the different phases of the management of the disaster. We give thanks to the almighty that no lives were lost directly because of the eruptions and show appreciation for the role the New Democratic Party (NDP) played during the process.
It was reported that over twenty thousand people were evacuated from the danger zone. The plan for evacuation, housing and feeding people from the danger zone was said to be in place prior to the eruption. When it was called upon it failed far too many of the people who moved to shelters and private homes. When the evacuation took place, people were anxious and even scared about what was to come. They were forced to adjust to living in shelters or with friends and relatives in crowded arrangements. Some of those accommodations did not have the most basic amenities: beds, enough bathrooms, and sufficient water. However, the evacuees adapted to the situation.
The NDP played a critical role to assist the evacuees during the time of crisis. For six months, the NDP provided over eight thousand (8000) food baskets and other supplies to persons who were displaced and continued after they were resettled. We also played a vital part in the cleaning of the ash. For instance, in Owia, young men and women were employed to remove ash from the homes of a number of persons through the initiative of the NDP.
The challenge is real
Although most persons have returned home, it is still challenging for them. Senator Shevern John addressed the issue in her 2022, Budget presentation. She said, “Madam Speaker, in North Windward, the effects of the eruptions continue to be a major problem to many householders. Many persons lost their homes as stated in Budget 2022 and now it is time for rebuilding and recovery and it must be transformative. To be transformative, we must have the collectiveness of all stakeholders involved.
Madam speaker, as it stands now, what we see are rust and ash painted house roofs. We are having partial repairs of roofs despite monetary allocations for repairs that consider the future impact of existing damage. It means that these homeowners will be left to change the other rusted pieces of galvanize on their own, an added burden to the vulnerable, elderly and disabled, single mothers and the unemployed. This added financial burden is definitely not acceptable and I am calling on the relevant authority to give the people what is rightfully theirs. Even the twenty seven (27) small houses donated by the Trinidadian based group remain locked up and uninhabited. The donors saw the need and rushed to the assistance, but the government still lingers.”
Even though Senator John focused her debate on North Windward. The situation is similar in North Leeward, especially in the agricultural sector. Farmers are meeting it extremely difficult to till the soil because of the large amount of ash that was deposited on the farms during the eruptions. Also, persons whose appliances were destroyed or damaged are still waiting for them to be replaced by the government. No partisan consideration should be used to decide who gets help, when they get help and what sort of help they get. They should be given out according to need. It should not be that the best is given to some politically favoured persons and the remainder to rest of the people.
Were lives lost indirectly because of the volcanic eruption?
From the initial stage of the construction of the Georgetown Modern Medical Complex, the NDP raised concerns about its location because it is built in the red zone. The volcano erupted last year and many persons who were receiving treatment at that facility for terminal illness were affected.
The following is an account of an individual who lost a close relative: “One year since the last eruption of the La Soufrière volcano. Many look back on this day as the start of what would be the lost of their livelihood or homes; but I look back on today as the start of the eventual lost of life for many I knew and loved. The eruption might not have resulted in any direct lost of life but I keep wondering, how many Vincentians lost their lives indirectly as a result of the eruption?
The eruption saw the temporary closure of the Modern Medical and Diagnostic Centre in Georgetown. For anyone who had a cancer or kidney patient in their family at that time you knew exactly what that meant. Countless trips down to Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, ash or no ash, only to be told treatment was not available.
Today, I remember the families, familiar or unfamiliar, who sat on those benches downstairs on the male ward waiting for the doctor to give them some hope. Many of us have since buried our loved one without being able to access treatment.
Today, I remember the doctor who had to sit there, watched all those people in their eyes, dampening what little hope they had as she told them treatment was still not available. I know that could not have been easy.
Today, I remember the dearest thing the eruption took from me. My mother. Even though I know the time would’ve come for her to go, I know that with treatment I would have had a little more time with her. Her fight would have been a little easier.”
As Vincentians marked the first anniversary of the eruptions of the La Soufriere volcano, the government is yet to complete and deliver the houses at Orange Hill to those needy persons; complete the repairs of homes and provide the lands that were promised to persons who have to be relocated.