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Jamaica to assist in coordination of regional hurricane relief

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundera@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

THE Jamaican Government has reached out to neighbouring Caribbean islands which were badly affected by Hurricane Irma that last week tore through the region, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake .

Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie told Parliament yesterday that upon receiving a request from executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Ronald Jackson, Government moved quickly to activate the local subregional coordination centre.

He said the response mechanism involving his ministry, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has been to secure relief items for the impacted countries, and make logistical arrangements for transportation.

McKenzie said the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency management (ODPEM) is “actively” pursuing the deployment of a specialist team to carry out rapid needs assessment of the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas, two of the affected countries.

The team will include members of the Jamaica Defence Force, the National Environment and Planning Agency, ODPEM, National Works Agency and other technical support partners. They will provide logistics support, securing and transporting relief to the Turks and Caicos islands and the Bahamas, and facilitating movement of humanitarian workers, including a 16-member United Nations team to the Turks and Caicos islands.

In the meantime, Minister McKenzie said the foreign ministry has been working with its high commission office in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and the consulate in Turks and Caicos in an effort to ascertain the impact of the hurricane on Jamaicans in affected territories.

Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Morais Guy, complained that the government was not moving quickly enough to assist in repatriating Jamaicans in the affected islands. “We are concerned [with] what seemingly is tardiness on the part of the Jamaican authorities to get these Jamaicans home,” Guy stated.

McKenzie stressed, however, that there was need for proper assessment by the foreign affairs ministry to ensure that those who actually receive assistance in coming home wereJamaican citizens.

“Based on what has taken place so far, it is difficult to find almost everybody. There are many islanders who sound like Jamaicans and you don't want to take the wrong persons. It is only fair that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working through CDEMA, is given some time to facilitate the information so that the kind of decision that will be made will satisfy everybody. It is going to take some time, and we are hoping that by now and the end of the week the Government will have something more positive to say on its efforts,” he said.

McKenzie also announced that the Jamaican high commissioner in Canada has deployed an officer to Antigua to meet with Jamaicans at the reception centre set up by CDEMA at the Antigua international airport, to make the necessary arrangements to facilitate them.

“The team has also been given the task of visiting at least three shelters that have been established, to have ongoing discussions,” McKenzie said, noting that the Government happened in the region and offer closer contact and assistance to affected Jamaicans in the territories.

The United Nations Fund had called on the international community to offer more assistance to the Caribbean islands devastated by Irma, pointing out that governments appeared to be relying on countries responsible for overseas territories — France, Britain, and the Netherlands — to help the affected countries.

Last week, Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told the international media that Barbuda was now “literally rubble” after the monster hurricane left more than half of its 1,600 residents homeless. Barbuda is the smaller of the two-island state.

The French island of St Martin and Dutch Saint Maarten did not escape Irma's wrath either, as the hurricane left citizens in those territories devastated and desperate. Media reports also said about 90 per cent of buildings in Anguilla were damaged.

The powerful hurricane tore through the Caribbean islands last week, killing more 30 people and razing communities.