I write in reference to your editorial of 25 September 2017 entitled ‘Hurricane Relief’.
It is unfortunate that there appeared to be little or no attempt to ascertain facts prior to the publication of this leader article.
The facts would show that on Wednesday 30 August 2017, when Irma was a tropical storm, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the designated regional institution, began regional co-ordination and engineered national mobilization as is normal practice.
On Sunday 3 September 2017, the CDEMA daily update to member states included the following: “Hurricane Irma is expected to be a major storm as it approaches the Leeward Islands on Tuesday into Wednesday. This will be accompanied by very strong winds, high storm surge and heavy rainfall.
“The CDEMA Coordinating Unit is in contact with the National Disaster Coordinators (NDCs) of the threatened participating states. The status of regional actions is as follows:
- The Regional Coordination Plan has been activated
- The Regional Response Mechanism (RRM) has been placed on standby
- The Regional Security System (RSS) has been contacted to place the Caricom Disaster Relief Unit (CDRU) on standby
- CDEMA has placed the Caricom Disaster Assessment and Coordination (CDAC) team and Caricom Operational Support Team (COST) on standby
- The Eastern Caribbean Development Partner Group on Disaster Management (ECDPG/DM) has been alerted and will convene a meeting tomorrow, Monday September 4, 2017
- The Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) will update the partners of the RRM on the status of the system at the ECDPG/DM meeting
- CDEMA is equipped to offer support through the mobilization and deployment surge capacity in specialized technical areas to its Participating States and stands ready to respond as required
“Sub regional actions:
“The Jamaica Sub Regional Focal Point for the northern sector is closely monitoring and is on standby to support where necessary.”
These regional actions were in addition to actions being taken at the national level by the relevant disaster preparedness organizations which are all part of the CDEMA system. It is clear therefore that preparations for the oncoming hurricane were in place.
On September 5, 2017, the following is an excerpt from the CDEMA Daily Update:
“Regional Readiness Actions – CDEMA Coordinating Unit
- The Regional Response Mechanism (RRM) is fully activated as of 4:00pm Tuesday September 05, 2017
- The Regional Coordination Center (RCC) will be fully activated tomorrow, Wednesday September 06, 2017
- The Caricom Disaster Relief Unit (CDRU) remains on standby
- The Caricom Disaster Assessment and Coordination (CDAC) team and Caricom Operational Support Team (COST) are also on standby”
Second Meeting of the Regional Response Mechanism (RRM) Partners September 5, 2017
“The second meeting of the RRM Partners was convened today, Tuesday September 5, 2017 at 1:15pm at the CDEMA Coordinating Unit. The meeting was chaired by CDEMA’s Executive Director and Programme Manager for Preparedness and Response. Approximately forty five (45) participants from regional and international donor, humanitarian and development agencies were represented. CDEMA CU presented an Operational Plan with potential scenarios and Pre-Impact Analysis of vulnerable areas in the threatened CDEMA Participating States. CDEMA will convene another meeting tomorrow, Wednesday September 6, 2017 at 1:00pm (1300 hours) AST.”
The following updates were provided at the RRM meeting:
“Regional Institutional Updates
“The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA)
- Has activated their Disaster Management Plans
- They are monitoring the system
- Sent requests to staff to support regional deployment teams
“Caribbean Development Bank (CDB)
- Has provided CDEMA with US 150,000.00 to support logistical work and initial damage assessment
- Will provide Emergency Response Grant (ERG) to Participating States
“Caricom Development Fund (CDF)
- Indicated that a Disaster Assistance Facility of $100 000 USD is available to support response and relief operations to impacted states. There is flexibility to increase this amount based on the severity and complexity of the impact
“Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA)
- Indicated that they have been in touch with the heads of the national Water and Sanitation Companies in the threatened states and have offered their support to conduct assessments and conduct repairs to damaged water systems
“Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)
- Technical staff can be made available to support assessments in affected Participating States
“Regional Security System (RSS)
- CDRU has been placed on standby
- Barbados Coast Guard has been placed on standby to support operations
- RSS air crew and air staff will also be on standby
- Stands ready to assist the Regional Response Mechanism by providing support to the security forces
- Is able to facilitate a discussion between the RRM and the Regional Military Chiefs of Staffs in reference to their support to regional response and relief operations post Hurricane Irma
“International Institutions “European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO)
- Shared that they are deploying an Emergency Response and Resilience Coordinator to the Dominican Republic, adding that there is currently a coordinator in Haiti
“Global Affairs Canada (GAC)
- Confirmed the Government of Canada’s commitment to the provision of 2 airport specialists
“International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
- The Americas office in Trinidad has been fully activated
- Surge capacities have been identified and are en route to Trinidad
- Indicated that they are in close communication with their overseas territories
- Stated that there is a team coordinating activities in Haiti
“United Kingdom (DFID)
- Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Mounts Bay is positioned in the region in support of the British Overseas Territories and subsequently, any other State in need of assistance.
“United Nations (UN) Agencies
“Pre-deployed a consultant to TCI as of 15:00 hrs, a consultant to be deployed to the Bahamas
Advised that there are 3 staff members stationed in Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla and in St Kitts/Nevis
“Have been in contact with the countries’ Ministries of Health Disaster Coordinators
“Teams are on stand-by and the areas of focus include Coordination, Logistics, Water and Sanitation, Damage Assessment and Information Management
□ Stated that they have several people in Barbados who can join the assessment teams
□ Indicated that their New York and Panama Offices have been fully engaged
□ Indicated that they have been communicating closely with their Panama and Jamaica offices
□ Indicated that they have reproductive health kits, as well as dignity and hygiene kits available for deployment
□ Surge capacity from Latin America and the Caribbean are on standby, with one team member arriving in Barbados today to support Rapid Assessment and WASH
□ Stated that water purification tablets are in Barbados with additional water items in Panama
□ Noted that supplies have been pre-positioned in Barbados and Antigua
□ Stated that they will work with PAHO to provide psycho-social support
□ Stated that they have mobilized UNDAC, adding that the first member should arrive in Barbados today and two more are expected to arrive by Thursday.
□ Have deployed two (2) additional staff to Haiti to support the logistics team.
□ Have pre-deployed personnel in countries
□ A Disaster Risk Management Specialist is on location in St Kitts at NEMA along with three surge consultants
□ A DRMS is covering Antigua and Barbuda along with two local surge consultants
□ Confirmed communication with the National Disaster Coordinators in Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts/Nevis
□ Another regional officer should be in Barbados this afternoon along with a communications officer out of Costa Rica
Sub Regional Actions:
“Jamaica – Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management
□ Indicated that they are on standby as the North sub regional focal point and are actively monitoring the system.
□ Stated that they have four technical staff on standby for deployment
□ Notifications will be sent to Ministry of Health, Jamaica Defence Force
“Trinidad and Tobago – Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management
□ Indicated that they are on standby as the Southern sub regional focal point to support the Regional Response Mechanism
□ Stated that they have two technical staff on standby for deployment.”
The foregoing gives a sample of the pre-event coordination that was in train not only in respect of regional organizations but the wider international community.
The hurricane was at its most active in the area of the northern Leeward Islands from the night of 5 September 2017, through the evening and night of 6 September, 2017.
All contact was lost with Barbuda at 1 am 6 September. Even satellite phones would be inoperable due to the intensity of the weather system and the heavy low-lying cloud cover.
The first all clear signal from an impacted area was from Anguilla at 3 pm on 6 September; the second was British Virgin Islands at 11 pm on the same date.
Antigua’s VC Bird Airport was re-opened at 2 pm on Thursday 7 September. CDEMA Assessment team was despatched to Barbuda.
An initial deployment was made to the BVI via two RSS aircraft on that day as well. The team comprised 9 soldiers from the Barbados Defence Force (BDF). An eighteen member combined RNAT and COST/CDAC deployment was made to Anguilla and the BVI led by the CDEMA Coordinating Unit and comprised members of Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), Engineers from the Barbados Association of Professional Engineering, Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), UNDAC, DFID CHASE and PAHO.
PAHO deployed a three member team; one specialist in support of CDEMA and two specialists to support the environmental health conditions in Barbuda. PAHO also deployed two teams to Anguilla and St Maarten to support preparations for the passage of Jose.
By this time, a helicopter from Trinidad and Tobago, CDEMA’s sub-regional focal point, had been already in Antigua to assist in ferrying assessment teams to Barbuda. All relief and assessment efforts had to be halted by the evening/night of 7 September due to the imminent passage of Hurricane Jose. In fact all the aircraft had to be relocated to avoid possible damage from Hurricane Jose.
Heads of Government met in special emergency session on Saturday 9 September to receive an update on the effects of the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Jose on the Region and progress on the co-ordinated response to provide relief for those affected. They issued a statement following the meeting which was carried in your newspaper and other publications throughout the Region.
The meeting, presided over by Caricom Chairman, Dr Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, received a full briefing on the situation from representatives of the affected countries, the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA), the Community’s lead agency for disaster response, Caricom Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque and regional institutions.
Premier of the British Virgin Islands, (BVI) Dr Orlando Smith, the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Dr Hubert Minnis, Foreign Minister of Haiti Antonio Rodrigues and a representative of the Turks and Caicos government provided the latest information on their countries. Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerritt provided information on the situation on the island of St Maarten where a significant number of Caricom nationals are currently located and Prime Minister of Saint Lucia Allen Chastenet alerted the meeting to the situation in St Kitts and Nevis.
The Executive Director of CDEMA, Mr Ronald Jackson advised at that meeting that CDEMA’s advance team has been waiting in Antigua to go in to the affected countries in that area as soon as conditions permit, given the proximity of Hurricane Jose and the severe damage to ports of entry. The Caribbean Community through its various agencies, led by CDEMA, has been the first responders on the ground assessing, rendering relief, evacuating the ill and infirm and performing the tasks associated with post hurricane efforts.
With respect to Hurricane Maria, its passage over Dominica on the night of Monday 18 September through the morning of Tuesday19 September did not allow for access and landing until Wednesday 20 September. All communication was cut off by 4 am on 19 September. Satellite phones in place in Dominica began to function sporadically on Wednesday 20 September.
However on the evening/night of 19 September and RSS reconnaissance flight did an over-fly which allowed for an initial assessment of the damage.
With helicopters that were available from the Community engaged in ongoing relief and evacuation efforts arising from Irma, the French were generous enough to provide a helicopter from Guadeloupe to facilitate an aerial tour of the island by the Prime Minister. Two rapid needs assessment teams from CDEMA were later deployed to the island on the said Wednesday with Search and Rescue teams following on Thursday 21 September having been awaiting weather clearance to access the affected island since 19 September.
The co-ordination of the relief and recovery efforts for all the affected islands continues with all parties carrying out their defined roles. The daily co-ordination sessions ensure that the operations are carried out as efficiently as possible with everyone aware of each other’s tasks, capacities and actions both by regional and international agencies
It would have been mutually beneficial if your readers would have been given the opportunity to know of the excellent work carried out by CDEMA, the other Caricom institutions and the international partners in the face of dangerous and difficult conditions as they confront an unprecedented multi-country catastrophe. All this information was readily available on the same website which your editorial cited with respect to Dominica’s needs.