WORLD RELIEF ARRIVES

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves.
Associated Press / Craig Ruttle

As the island appears to be enjoying a break this week from massive explosions, help from around the world is pouring into St. Vincent in the aftermath of eruption of the La Soufriere volcano with the United Nations, private sector organizations and friendly governments rushing boatloads of aid to the country in recent days.

Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, Suriname, The Bahamas and other member nations in the 15-state CARICOM grouping moved in earnest to send large shipments of water, other food items, face masks, sanitizers and a host of other items but some international businessmen are hammering Britain for its lukewarm response and aid donation levels to one of its former colonies.

Dennis O’Brien, the chairman of mobile telephone and services provider, Digicel Group, railed against Britain’s paltry donation of Sterling 200,000 that it channeled through the Barbados-based umbrella, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). He described the donation as “pitiful and as “a slap in the face of the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, who as members of the Commonwealth, find themselves in a desperate situation. The UK government needs to step up, do the right thing and increase substantially its aid and financial assistance as a matter of urgency. This would be a small measure of the historical debt owed to these communities,” he argued. For its own part, Digicel has contributed US$500,000 — more than Britain’s Sterling 200,000 — to St. Vincent while a number of its country offices have made individual contributions as well.

Meanwhile, the United Nations announced this week it is leading a program to raise nearly $30 million in global funding to help the island get back on its feet while the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) has made available grant aid worth $2.2 million for relief and recovery efforts.

Bolstering appeals for quick international assistance, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves virtually addressed the UN’s Security Council on Monday urging its members and the global community as a whole not to forget the island in its greatest hour of need.

“The global community cannot allow itself to make haste slowly. Across our land, the faces of men, women are strained and anxious. They are hurting badly. The global community is being summoned to action to our aid in the name of humanity and in accord with the United Nations Charter,” he said.

The volcano’s eruption apart, Gonsalves said that the massive disruption on the island will be made worse by the fact that the annual hurricane season starts in about six weeks. The mid year rainy season is also scheduled to commence. Add to this problems managing the spread of Covid-19 in state and other shelters and the international community would be able to appreciate the challenges facing the island of about 100,000 people.

More than 12,000 have been evacuated from the dangerous northern part of the island to the safer south and other areas as shortages of potable water and other basic items frustrate residents.

In nearby Barbados 118 miles to the east, officials have reopened the Grantley Adams International Airport after it was shuttered for more than a week because of heavy downpours of ash on the island. Dozens of business places including the famous fish port at Oistins have reopened after a massive national clean up exercise of ash from the volcano. Schools were also scheduled to be reopened this week.

There have been about 30 big explosions since the first on April 9. Police have reported no deaths or serious injuries. The previous volcanic episode had occurred back in 1979 and again in 1902 when nearly 2000 people were killed.

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