Gov’t, private sector stepping up relief to hurricane-hit islands

-Felix sets off on assessment mission

With a team headed by Citizenship Minister Winston Felix dispatched to Hurricane Irma-ravaged islands to assess needs, government is working with the private sector to gather donations and some companies have already come forward.

Gaico Construction Inc has chartered a plane and will fill it with over US$12, 000 in relief supplies, weighing 2,900 pounds, for distribution to persons on the islands affected.

Managing Director of Gaico Construction Komal Singh told Stabroek News that the humanitarian gesture represents his and his family’s recognition of their corporate responsibility. “I don’t like to make donations public and that sort of thing but we have always done it. I believe it is my corporate responsibility to step in to show support, helping our brothers and sisters in whatever way we could,” Singh said.

He also has a vessel with a 300-tonne capacity at the ready. Singh was quick to point out that the focus should not be on the amount he donated because other members of the private sector are also chipping in. He said he was moved to donate after a meeting this week between Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and the business community.

“I am representing the private sector effort to help coordinate help from our membership and wider Guyana to some extent. These donations being in the form of cash or kind will be handed over to the CDC (Civil Defence Commission) for further handling. So far, we have received great support from our private sector membership. On behalf of the private sector team, we want to appeal to all Guyana to come out and support in whatever little way you can it will go a far way,” Singh explained.

Last evening, the CDC held an appeal programme on the National Communications Network (NCN), where it provided updates on relief efforts being undertaken by government, donation accounts at local banks and emergency contact numbers that families both here and abroad could use to access information.

Chairman of the Disaster Risk Management Task Force, Major General (retired) Joe Singh told viewers that following the devastating hurricane, Cabinet decided that it was necessary to set up the task force to coordinate relief efforts for those affected, especially the large Guyanese diaspora on the various islands.

Government also announced on Thursday that it is intensifying efforts to coordinate relief for Guyanese nationals on the affected islands. Questions have been raised as to why it took the government a full week before taking tangible steps.

Col. (Rtd) Chabilall Ramsarup, Director General of the CDC, briefed the Task Force on the initial plans for Guyana’s response, following a briefing from Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials on the situation faced by Guyanese nationals in the various islands.

Following the three-hour long meeting, it was decided that  Felix would head a Guyana Needs Assessment Team that would travel to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and St Maarten via Antigua for an initial assessment and to report to the Ministerial Task Force which was appointed by President David Granger.

Government also said on Thursday that it had also decided to double the initial contribution towards relief efforts from US$50,000 to US$100,000. The US$50,000 had been derided in some quarters as paltry.

Nagamootoo, in a statement, had expressed deep concern for the welfare of Guyanese, particularly in Tortola and surrounding islands, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke and expressed relief at reports that Guyanese who were evacuated from Barbuda to Antigua are being accommodated by relatives and friends on the main island there.

Singh pointed out that by tomorrow the team is expected to give feedback on its assessments and needs of those affected. The team, he noted, flew by LIAT Airlines to Antigua and will then go to Tortola and St.Maarten.

Singh said that checks have also been made with local students in Cuba and they were all safe.

However, initial reports are that persons from St. Maarten and the British Virgin Island of Tortola lost passports and other necessary documents.

Ramsarup said that while criticisms have been made of Guyana’s emergency efforts, much could not have been done without proper communication; a seeming impossibility at a time when communication mediums were damaged by the hurricane. “Response has to be organised,” he stressed, as he pointed to the time when Guyana sent over 14 containers of items to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, only to have the items parked at Haiti’s port for months because of clearance issues.

“CDEMA (Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency ) is doing its best to manage and coordinate this…we need to ensure the logistics of receiving things…it must be going to the people who need it…once the information flows we will know exactly what we will do in terms of response,” he added.

And persons wanting to contribute to Guyana’s relief efforts can do so in cash or kind.

For cash donations, a Republic Bank Account # 651-933-8 and a Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) Account #001802489012 have been set up.

Ramsarup pleaded with Guyana’s citizenry to contribute, saying no amount of money is too small or too much. A telethon has also been organised for next week.

He also said that persons needing information on their families, in the various countries, can call the CDC’s 24-hour hotlines at (592) 226-1027, 226-1114, 226-1117 or mobile numbers (592) 600-7500 and 623-1700.

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