By Kurt Campbell
Backed by the United Nations (UN), the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, led by Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, on Tuesday launched a global appeal to not only help its own recovery but those neighbouring Caribbean Islands affected by the periodic eruptions at the La Soufrière volcano over the last 12 days.
The US$29.2M appeal is one intended to ramp up international solidarity to respond to what has now been dubbed a humanitarian crisis, where lives and livelihoods are threatened immensely in the face of uncertainty for the weeks ahead.
The volcano first erupted on April 9, 2021, displacing approximately 20,000 persons with some 6,000 currently in public shelters and thousands more in private facilities.
The entire island remains covered in ash as its inhabitants cope with limited potable water; it is the beginning of significant economic and social setback even as the environmental impact has also affected neighbouring islands, including St. Lucia, Antigua, Barbados and Grenada.
With further eruptions expected, these countries have turned to the international community, asking for tangible help in the face of an outpouring of solidarity and support. Speaking during the virtual launch on Tuesday, UN Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Didier Trebucq, assured that those affected can count on the UN as a partner to ensure a swift response to the crisis and for a resilient recovery
“We are dealing with a crisis within a crisis,” Trebucq said as he offered an assessment of the situation.
Not only is St. Vincent dealing with the aftermath of several volcanic eruptions in the last 12 days, but it also fears a spike in COVID-19 cases with persons now in public and private shelters. The country is also bracing itself for the hurricane season expected in the next six weeks.
“It is a complex situation with more eruptions expected… the situation can deteriorate rapidly. There are complex layers of challenges that need to be overcome,” Trebucq said.
Announcing the call for action, the UN Resident Coordinator said global support is needed to respond to a growing humanitarian crisis. “We have no time to lose as we have to prevent a crisis.”
The UN has already given US$2 million to support St. Vincent.
A more somber Dr. Gonsalves reflected on the thriving economy and society of St. Vincent prior to the volcano eruption – a volcano that had been dormant for over 40 years.
“We were ranked as an upper-middle-class society… 12 days later… the country is in an economic and social tailspin where lives and livelihoods are threatened immensely… It will take a long period of time to rebuild the economy.
“The plants, the vegetables have to be replanted… they are all gone. Completely destroyed by ash…. People will not be able to go back into red zones for quite some time,” the Prime Minister said as he appealed for help.
Gonsalves said he is hopeful although development and living standards have been set back by several decades.
“It is a matter we certainly cannot handle by ourselves… overall the economy and society of our country is in a terrible mess because of what has happened.
“Now, what do we do? I think the global community will help and there are indications that you will help and this is a tangible way to help… it is legitimate and endorsed by the government. We need your help,” he said.
PM Gonsalves was particularly concerned about the uncertainty, describing it as troubling.
He promised full accountability for all assistance, financial and otherwise, being given to St. Vincent. He also thanked the British Monarchy and all other regional and international government for their assistance.
The UN also has its own coordinated and transparent framework through which contributors and donors will work.