Caribbean needs ‘Marshall Plan’ after Irma: British billionaire

Sir Richard Branson speaks to attendees after Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket was rolled out, Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in Mojave, Calif.
Associated Press / Mark J. Terrill, File

In describing as apocalyptic and reminiscent of war the destruction suffered by Caribbean islands in the wake of the passage of Hurricane Irma, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson is calling for a “Marshall Plan” similar to what was instituted in Europe after World War II.

“The region needs a ‘Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan’ for the BVI (British Virgin Islands0 and other territories that will aid in recovery, sustainable reconstruction and long-term revitalization of the local economy,” Branson wrote Sunday on the Virgin blog, his platform of choice since Irma passed over Branson’s Necker Island in the BVI.

“The UK (United Kingdom) government will have a massive role to play in the recovery of its territories affected by Irma – both through short-term aid and long-term infrastructure spending,” he added.

The European Recovery Program was a United States-led effort to inject US$13 billion into the economy of 16 European nations with agriculture and industrial production hollowed out by the war, according to the Washington Post.

It said the plan has been “forever linked” to then-Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who powerfully called for substantial aid to Europe during a speech at Harvard University in 1947.

By many measures, the plan was a success, with a 150 percent increase in standard of living over the next three decades in participating countries, according to the Marshall Foundation, and stronger ties with Europe on diplomatic and economic levels, the Post said.

Launched in 1948, the aid effort concluded in 1952.

“Over the coming weeks, we’ll have to assess exactly what is needed,” Branson said. “It is clear to me creating jobs is paramount. There will be a huge amount of rebuilding to be done, and people will need work to help rebuild their lives as well as their homes.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the government is allocating more than US$41 million for hurricane relief efforts, according to the Post.

Britain’s international development secretary, Priti Patel, said that the British navy, along with several Royal Marines and a contingent of military engineers, had been dispatched to the Caribbean with makeshift shelters and water purification systems.

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne said the sister island of Barbuda was “barely inhabitable” and “literally a rubble.”

Branson, according to the Post, is looking to do his part to change that. His company will plant seeds in the recovery effort by tasking his foundation, Virgin Unite, to coordinate aid and supplies in the short term and reconstruction efforts in the months ahead.

Branson had said that his compound on Necker Island was built with reinforced hurricane blinds designed to withstand high winds.

But that wasn’t the case for the surrounding area or the rest of 74-acre island, his property for four decades, the Post said.

“I have never seen anything like this hurricane,” Branson wrote. “Necker and the whole area have been completely and utterly devastated. We are still assessing the damage, but whole houses and trees have disappeared.

“Outside of the bunker, bathroom and bedroom doors and windows have flown 40 feet away,” he added.

Branson is the 324th wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of about US$5 billion, according to Forbes, which notes that he bought Necker Island for US$180,000.

A few hours before Irma’s impact, Branson wrote that he planned to retreat with his team to his concrete wine cellar below “the Great House,” according to the Post.

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