Chairman Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit opened the meeting by reassuring the solidarity of the OECS Member States with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and emphasized the meeting look at the critical needs of the island as well as the ability of Member States of the OECS to provide assistance to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Chairman reiterated the support of the Government and people of the Commonwealth of Dominica with a pledge to accept about 300 people in the first instance, covering accommodation and all related expenses. The support would include preparations to receive students who are to be at school.
The OECS Authority received a summary report from the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves who extended heartfelt gratitude to the Heads of Government, Development Partners and regional agencies, for the solidarity and support which had been extended to the Government and people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. He said,
“There has been an outpouring of good Samaritans; the people have worked together in unity and of course the Caribbean family has responded in an amazing way. When I speak of it, my eyes well up with tears.”
Towards the end of 2020, effusive eruptions began at the La Soufrière volcano causing gas, steam and magma to create a fresh dome in the crater. On Thursday, April 8, 2021, an evacuation order was issued for residents in the Red Zone located closest to La Soufrière in the north of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which saw a large number of evacuees moving to stay with friends and family in other parts of the island. Several explosive eruptions occurred on Friday, April 9, 2021, blowing the new dome and pushing bulk material into the sea and atmosphere, a situation which continued to date, producing several kilometers of columns of ash over the island. A first instance of pyroclastic flow occurred on Friday, April 9, however, at approximately 4:15 AM (AST) on Monday, April 12, 2021, an explosive eruption ejected hot rocks which flowed over the sides of the volcano at a rapid pace, towards communities and valleys. Fortunately, there had been no reported loss of life or injuries from the eruptions.
The Prime Minister reported that the island was faced with declining water supplies (the island’s water supply was at 20% capacity), dwindling food supplies, an interruption to the power supply and challenges in streamlining the distribution of supplies by the National Emergency Management Organisation to evacuees who are unregistered.
Amidst the harrowing conditions facing the island, the Prime Minister reported there was a reluctance on the part of the nationals to take up the offer of evacuation to other islands because these persons did not want to leave their property and possessions behind; and there was hesitancy around the vaccine requirement. It was feared that the situation could be compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which the country was working arduously to manage. He reported that not only were persons hesitant to leave the island but hesitancy to leave their homes behind has resulted in the Coast Guard crews having to run rescue operations to retrieve these individuals. Prime Minister Gonsalves lamented that these rescues were putting the lives of the crew at risk because the Coast Guard had to operate along the Atlantic side of the island where the ocean was rough, compounded by possible compromise of the engines by the ash from La Soufrière.
Prime Minister Gonsalves concluded that in the north, 40% of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines' agriculture was decimated, and income support, as well as infrastructural recovery, was needed immediately. He asserted that it would take some time for the agriculture sector to recover.
In assessing the northern area of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines after the last explosive eruption, Prime Minister Gonsalves surmised
“The place is desolate.”
Relief Efforts to Date
Member States of the OECS pledged their support and provided updates to the meeting as follows:
Prime Minister Gonsalves confirmed the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) had been coordinating with the Development Partners and the United Nations, who would be assisting with the Needs Assessment. The Government of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela had donated the use of a vessel to collect supplies and other resources along the island chain in the Eastern Caribbean and the vessel was already en route with resource personnel and relief supplies. Prime Minister Gonsalves confirmed the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres had reached out to him, pledging support through the UN Southern Command and reiterated the need for all assistance to the island to work with the systems in place in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
- The Rt. Hon. Dr. Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, confirmed the Government had already dispatched a large quantity of water via a water truck shipped on Sunday, April 11, 2021.
- Prime Minister Hon. Allen Chastanet confirmed Saint Lucia had water supplies awaiting dispatch to Saint Vincent along with collections to date in terms of non-perishable foods. The Government of Saint Lucia had activated its Overseas Missions to help coordinate donations for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. There would be a coordinated effort on the arrival of supplies to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia offered that an inventory of supplies would be created and held for them.
- Montserrat reiterated the support and the importance of managing the situation well given their own experience a mere two decades ago.
- Prime Minister Hon. Gaston Browne reaffirmed the support of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and confirmed that Antigua and Barbuda had mobilised the Jolly Beach Hotel to receive evacuees; two containers of suppliers were to depart Antigua and Barbuda for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the evening of April 12, 2021. He confirmed there would also be a monetary contribution and the country would continue to stand in partnership and solidarity with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
- The Governments of the Virgin Islands; the Executive Council of the Territorial Authority of Martinique; and the Regional Council of Guadeloupe all expressed their profound solidarity with the Government and people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines confirmed that there were three official and secure means of collecting cash donations.
- The first was through an account being established by Caribbean Development Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) to support the recovery efforts;
- The second is a special account within the Consolidated Fund of the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, managed by the Accountant General and;
- The third, is the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ account at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank into which only governments of the Monetary Union and regional organisations can deposit funds.
It was emphasized that there is no official GoFundMe account authorized by the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the OECS Authority is urging persons willing to provide assistance to not fall prey to arbitrary accounts being set up claiming to support the Vincentian relief efforts. People who were willing to donate were asked to be vigilant and thoroughly vet the entity to which they intended to donate.
The Authority agreed that the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is in the process of establishing an official web platform for the relief effort that would provide information in real-time on the emerging needs and updates when these are met. Persons willing to contribute to the efforts, especially organizations in the Diaspora, are strongly encouraged to give cash donations and/or to consolidate any materials being sent to avoid congestion at the ports of entry. The OECS Authority noted that this was a major lesson from the experience of Dominica following Hurricane Maria. Minimising congestion of small packages at the ports of entry is essential to the smooth logistics of the recovery effort.
Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), Mr. Timothy Antoine confirmed that the Monetary Council would be considering a grant for the island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Further, he confirmed that the Staff of the ECCB had also embarked on an initiative donating mainly water through the National Disaster Agency of St. Kitts and Nevis as well as cash donations from the staff which would be matched by the management.
Additionally, Director General of the OECS Dr. Didacus Jules reported on the efforts of the Commission to consolidate the support being offered to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines by the formation of a Global Coalition of agencies that included international foundations, civic organizations, and donor sources who will work collaboratively to address the evolving needs of the situation. Over 150 organizations have expressed interest in the coalition. In addition to converging support, the Global Coalition will play a key role in undertaking an international campaign that will include social print and electronic media, involving major media and communication experts from around the world.