By P.I. Gomes
Dr P.I. Gomes is former Secretary-General of the Organisation of African, the Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS was previously ACP Group of States).
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago (IDN) — La Soufriere volcano in the northeast of the main island of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, after warning signs of rumblings some months ago and the volcanologists’ prediction of an imminent eruption, just a week ago, the fate of nature’s fierce foray was felt on April 8, 2021 by the first explosive eruption of metre-high clouds of ash, smoke, rocks and debris. This was the first most severe event causing the evacuation of some 16,000 persons from a red zone in close proximity to the volcanic area.
Evacuations had begun prior to the first eruption, following the strong plea by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves highlighting the severe threat to life and property, crops and livestock of predominantly farming and fishing communities, in the high-risk Northeast of the island.
The rapid response mobilisation spearheaded by the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) was greeted by an engaged alert from the Caribbean Community’s CDEMA—Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency—and the military resources of the Regional Security System (RSS). They are both based in neighbouring Barbados and were ready for the required supporting actions for evacuation, water, food and necessities to accommodate the internally displaced persons (IDP) in the safer parts of the island.
Combined with various efforts to find housing for IDPs a most moving response and powerful commitment to Caribbean regional unity and solidarity in the face of overwhelming adversity has been forthcoming at many levels. Ordinary people of neighbouring islands are offering their homes for persons who are being evacuated and limited facilities available in other parts and the city of the main island of St. Vincent.
The responses of governments within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and further afield have been tangible and praiseworthy. Prime Minister Mia Motley of Barbados had negotiated access for Royal Caribbean Cruises, the US-based multinational tourism company, to make available empty cruise vessels to assist evacuation if so required.
Other CARICOM countries were preparing shipments of the most acute necessities of water, food, blankets, sleeping equipment, along with military and technical personnel. NGOs and Civil Society Organisations have also stepped forward in preparation and response to the initial and continuing explosive eruptions.
These efforts are being made across the islands despite economic and social difficulties being faced, partly related to the SARS-CoV.2 (Covid-19) pandemic and the knock-on effects. The protracted heavy indebtedness of high debt to GDP ratio, minimal economic growth for the last decade, uncompetitive tourist sectors, harsh and arbitrary de-risking pressures on the financial services sector and as Middle- Income Countries (MICs), St Vincent and other Caribbean countries are excluded by IMF/World Bank principles, from concessionary development finance.
The two-headed monster of the Covid pandemic and now the Volcanic eruption is however proving to be a catalytic opportunity to awaken a faltering and stumbling solidarity and functional cooperation, agreed to by the CARICOM foundation Treaty of Chaguaramas.
In expressing gratitude for a relief shipment of water, food and sleeping equipment with a military contingent from Trinidad & Tobago, St. Vincent Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves conveyed gratitude and sent a message to his “brother (Prime Minister Dr) Keith (Rowley) expressing thanks,” as “the people of T&T and St. Vincent are linked as brothers and sisters”.
Eruptions of large stones and rocks with plumes of whiten ash to nearby islands.
At the time of writing, several explosive eruptions continue to occur with houses, farms, shopping outlets and water courses covered in thick white ash as the falling pyroclastic flows contain stones and debris that are easily combustible. So far, there has been no loss of human life, but exposed livestock and cultivated acres of food crops are being destroyed.
The scale and duration of these eruptions remain unknown, and the time span can vary from weeks to a year with periods of relative quiet. Disturbing as this anticipated continuation of high-risk volcanic eruptions, there is an inherent opportunity for the goodwill and widespread responses from across the Caribbean to be a source of strengthening solidarity.
[On April 14, UN News reported that the world body is set to launch a funding appeal to support Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where ongoing volcanic “explosions” continue to disrupt life in the Caribbean island nation and nearby countries, a top official in the region said.
Didier Trebucq, UN Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the Caribbean, briefed journalists in response to the growing humanitarian crisis sparked after long-dormant La Soufrière volcano erupted, displacing some 20,000 people, or roughly one-fifth of the population. Around 6,000 are considered vulnerable.
“We are about to initiate the UN funding appeal and response plan to support the humanitarian response, but also the early recovery for the next six months”, he said, speaking via video link from Barbados.
“This is a crisis that is going to last certainly more than six months in the sub-region, in Saint Vincent, and other islands.”]
Professor Robinson of the Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies, in an update to the media of Barbados, which has been affected by heavy layers of volcanic ash, even to the extent requiring the closure of the national airport, stated that “explosive eruptions could continue for a year.”
The Professor was guided by past experience as the energy observed in the present situation is similar to the 1902 explosions of La Soufriere, which resulted in the death of 1600 persons. To date, no loss of life is an example of learning from past experience and advances in scientific knowledge and monitoring the “dormant” volcanic site.
Combined with these factors has been the early evacuation of the danger zone and readiness of the government to be proactive in providing temporary shelters, which are now some 85 in relatively safer areas of the island. These are a great cost to the government and can hardly be taken as a longer-term solution but are most welcome measures of immediate relief.
Due to the protracted nature of this disaster and notwithstanding the overwhelming response of relief efforts that have been shown by sister countries in CARICOM and elsewhere, Prime Minister Dr Gonsalves is fully aware that effective rehabilitation and overcoming disastrous consequences of the ongoing eruptions will call for several millions of dollars. In this regard, two aspects come to mind for which readers may wish to give further thought and possible tangible support.
First, I wish to draw attention to the Stronger Together campaign initiated as an Emergency response for St. Vincent by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Commission (OECS). Pledges are being sought in a coordinated effort directed to family and friends, persons of goodwill wherever to make pledges that would raise USD 100 million in the coming two weeks. I do hope that readers will respond and can do so through the OECS website www.oecs.int or the dedicated site email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A second consideration could be a structured and systematic enhanced programming support to the CDEMA—the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. This will entail a multi-donor, public-private partnership investment for a Disaster Risk Reduction Programme.
Support to CDEMA has previously been obtained through the European Development Fund (EDF) of the ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement by means of the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA +). This appeal is now directed mainly for private sector financing and readily in mind as potential supporters are the many tourism operators, Cruise companies and brand hotels that have enjoyed the Caribbean islands for their leisure, sporting activities and entertainment.
The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are hospitable, hard-working and not given to lamentations. They now deserve generous support. Kindly give due and tangible consideration to this appeal. [IDN-InDepthNews — 14 April 2021]
Photo: Explosive eruption of La Soufriere volcano prompts evacuations for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Source: CaribDirect.com
In-text: Map of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. CC BY-SA 4.0
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