While Guyana is preparing to render assistance through CARICOM for islands ravaged last week by Hurricane Irma, disrupted communication has left government cut off from its representatives in the various territories.
As a consequence of the communication lag, direct relief efforts for the Guyanese in the islands ravaged by the Category 5 hurricane will have to wait.
“We are trying to collect information from the relevant authorities as to the situation of Guyanese in the relevant places and what help they may need from the Government of Guyana,” Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge, told Stabroek News yesterday when contacted.
He explained that on Saturday, Caribbean Heads had a teleconference to discuss and plan relief efforts in wake of Hurricane Irma.
But the magnitude of the impact of the storm not only left people needing help but those usually charged with coordinating such help with no means of communication.
“Caribbean Heads had a teleconference yesterday and they got an update as to where things were as at yesterday. At that time there were still massive gaps in information regarding practically everywhere else except Antigua and Barbuda. As regards St Maarten and the other rest of the islands there has been no other information,” Greenidge said.
The Foreign Affairs Minister explained that this country is on standby to provide much needed assistance to the hurricane ravaged islands though Caribbean Community initiatives, but government will also be providing direct assistance as soon as it obtains detailed information.
“We are trying to collect information from the relevant authorities as to the situation of Guyanese in the relevant places and what help they may need from the Government of Guyana. We have not gotten a comprehensive picture of that yet. Yesterday when the heads met, they themselves did not have a comprehensive picture of what was needed across the region,” Greenidge explained.
“However, we stand ready to do whatever we can to render them assistance. We will try during the course of tonight and throughout tomorrow to put whatever information we might get as regards to the different Guyanese communities and their needs and so on, how they may be contacted and so on,” he added.
CARICOM yesterday put out a statement informing of its relief efforts and plans echoing much of what was explained by the Guyanese Foreign Minister.
“Relief efforts for the countries affected by Hurricane Irma in the eastern Caribbean have been stepped up following the passage of Hurricane Jose out of the area.
The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency’s (CDEMA) advance team, is operating out of its staging post in Antigua, which was largely unaffected by the hurricanes.
The advance team, consisting of the CARICOM Disaster Relief Unit (CDRU), Rapid Needs Assessment Team (RNAT), CARICOM Operational Support Team (COST), and the CARICOM Disaster Assessment Coordination team, have been deployed to the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, having been into Barbuda late last week,” the statement read.
“Barbuda, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands suffered serious damage by Hurricane Irma. CDEMA’s Rapid Assessment team, from its staging post in Jamaica, is scheduled to arrive in the Turks and Caicos Islands later today, Sunday 10 September. The Agency has also been in contact with Haiti which has also suffered damage during the passage of Hurricane Irma.
Latest information from the Governor of the British Virgin Islands indicates that five people have been confirmed dead. Barbuda, Anguilla and Haiti each suffered one fatality. Eleven deaths have also been reported in the French territories of St Barthelemy and St Martin as well as the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten,” it added.
But Greenidge pointed out that the CARICOM mechanism will be instituted to assist collectively and as such specific information relating to Guyana would not be obtained through this means.
So while Guyana gives her support through CARICOM, additionally it would be using those avenues to make contact with its point persons in respective territories.
“CARICOM is not going to be looking to see the specific needs of Guyanese and they are not able to give us information about (Guyanese) specifically at this time. They will tell you say, ‘Ninety five percent of the power and infrastructure is destroyed in Turks and Caicos and most people are in need of water and building materials. That is where they are’. And they will ask Guyana, just like they asked everybody, else ‘Can you provide anything on the following list?’ What we will do additionally is try to, via those agencies and honorary counsel where we have them and where we can find them, to see what specific needs Guyanese may have,” he explained.
“I am thinking largely here of information needs. We have people in Guyana who may want to know the situation of their children or their parents. So we will try to put up a portal on the website to put up such information as soon as we can,” he added.
At the same time, the Foreign Affairs Minister said that he doesn’t want to contribute to a panic and have everyone rushing to the ministry’s website, since “it is not up and running” but assured that MoFA staff were working around the clock to establish connections representative.
So far, the ministry has been able to contact Guyana’s Honorary Consul to Antigua and Barbuda, Robert Reis and another representative in French Guiana.
“We haven’t been hearing from our honorary counsel because the first thing that gets damaged is communication. So most of them we haven’t been able to be in communication with. We have spoken to Mr. Reis and the other Honorary Counsel in French Guiana … and we have not been able to get on to the others” Greenidge informed.
“As I speak to you, Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff is working on this to re-establish connections. We have been trying forever to make contact but if you see what is happening in St Maarten you won’t be surprised (that we have not),” he added.