Hurricane Irma Brings Devastation and New Opportunities

By anguillian October 9, 2017 11:46




September 6th, 2017, will forever be etched in the annals of Anguilla’s history. It will be remembered for the physical destruction left in its wake; the mental anguish it caused persons during its passage; the despair many persons felt when they observed the significant damage sustained by their homes and their businesses; and the catastrophic damage sustained by public buildings and the island’s infrastructure. While all these memories will be recounted for years to come, and shared with generation after generation, there are other memories which will, no doubt, be also shared.

Stories will be told of the resilient spirit of Anguillians which manifested itself in concerted and consistent efforts to return Anguilla to a state of normalcy in the shortest possible time. Persons will long remember and recount the response from our Caribbean neighbours (individual citizens and countries), and from the many friends of Anguilla, throughout the world, who visited our shores and fell in love with the island, particularly its people. Countries and individuals showed their love for the people of Anguilla through their many donations of relief items and monetary contributions. In our time of need, our friends and neighbours have been answering our call, and their response and the relief it continues to bring to the many persons among us, who are in significant need, will long be remembered.
It is obvious that the suffering of many persons in Anguilla will extend into the months ahead. Businesses have to rebuild or restructure, resulting in job losses. Many persons will experience serious difficulty in meeting their daily needs and monthly obligations. These circumstances cannot be ignored when we engage with each other. Persons experiencing difficulties must be prepared to acknowledge their circumstances and their obligations, and to engage with the appropriate persons to solicit a waiver or suspension of their obligations. It is hoped that such requests will, as far as realistically possible, be favourably considered. There must, however, be the understanding that certain business decisions, while offering temporary or permanent relief to an individual, can negatively impact the business, resulting in loss of income which might very well translate into further job losses. In the months following the passage of Hurricane Irma, there will be an obvious need for understanding, compassion and reasoning on the part of individuals and businesses as we engage with each other.
Amidst the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma, are there any silver linings? Careful consideration of Anguilla’s current situation will reveal many silver linings. Many of us have long felt that our school infrastructure is inadequate for the needs of our children. A heavy rain shower should not see us waiting patiently by our radios to hear whether there will be school, because many of our school roofs leak. Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to many of our schools resulting in many of the buildings being demolished. There is no doubt that, as a result, teachers and students will suffer many hardships for a relatively long period as classes must now be accommodated in far from ideal conditions. Long awaited upgrades to our schools can no longer be delayed and herein lies our silver lining. An opportunity has been presented for us to replace destroyed school buildings with purpose built classrooms constructed to standards which will ensure the safety and security of our children.
The Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten, which served as a hub for air transport in and out of Anguilla, has been severely damaged. We are, therefore, unable to rely on the Princess Juliana Airport to facilitate our air transportation. This situation has apparently helped us to a final resolution in relation to the lengthening of the runway at the Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Boris Johnson, who visited the island shortly after the passage of Hurricane Irma, was emphatic in his declaration that the runway was too short. The Honourable Chief Minister, Victor Banks, has since declared that it has been determined that the runway will be lengthened to facilitate the landing of larger commercial aircraft. It appears that the resulting damage from Hurricane Irma has spurred the powers that be to a definitive position on this matter.

The accommodations at the Ferry Terminal, for our many travellers who visit our shores through our seaport at Blowing Point, have also been the subject of much criticism. Those accommodations have been destroyed by Hurricane Irma and we have, therefore, been presented with an opportunity to construct a purpose built facility reflective of Anguilla’s status as a five star destination.
I have identified a mere sampling of the opportunities which Hurricane Irma can be considered to have presented us with. These opportunities once recognised must be realised, and here is where the hard decisions must be made and the hard work undertaken. Resources are needed to realise these opportunities and at this time, and over the next few months, many of the revenue streams usually available to Government are likely to under-perform. Additionally, Government will be expected to provide some assistance to many of the persons affected by Hurricane Irma, out of the little revenue collected, or by forgoing certain revenue measures to assist victims of Hurricane Irma. Government, acting alone, will have difficulty realising the opportunities resulting from Hurricane Irma. Citizens, residents, visitors, friends, regional governments and organisations, the United Kingdom Government and the European Union must all contribute to the realisation of these opportunities.

Some persons and entities will be able to provide far more substantial assistance than others but we can all play our part. As citizens and residents of Anguilla, we were all affected by Hurricane Irma, some to a greater extent than others. Those of us able to attend to our own needs should do so and thereby allow the resources of Government and other benefactors to go towards realising the opportunities presented by Hurricane Irma. Persons with the wherewithal to meet their obligations to Anguilla, by paying their taxes, should do so without seeking a break from such obligations.

There is, however, one relationship which Anguillians, understandably, expect to bear much fruit in the wake of the havoc wreaked upon Anguilla by Hurricane Irma. Our status as a British Overseas Territory is expected to result in significant assistance being provided by the United Kingdom Government, to ensure that our infrastructure does not readily fall prey to future disasters of the magnitude of Hurricane Irma and that the necessary infrastructure, to build and support a sustainable economy, are put in place. Her Majesty’s representative on island, HE Governor Tim Foy OBE, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, appeared resolute in his support for the provision of meaningful assistance from the UK to achieve these goals. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Boris Johnson, when he visited was heard to echo similar sentiments. Were these merely emotive responses in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma? We hope not.

Chief Minister, Victor Banks, and his team of elected officials, working with the public officers, are expected to ensure the realisation of the opportunities presented by Hurricane Irma. This is likely to be the greatest test of the Chief Minister’s leadership ability, and it is a test which most Anguillians hope he will pass with flying colours. His calm demeanour should serve him well as he constantly reminds UK officials, during his negotiations for the best possible aid package from the UK Government, of the sentiments expressed by Governor Tim Foy and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Boris Johnson, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Together we can and must ensure that the many opportunities presented by the destructive winds of Hurricane Irma are pursued and realised.

By anguillian October 9, 2017 11:46


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