the Governor's Speeches

Back to Speeches Indexoct 26, 2017

Post-Hurricane Irma Rebuilding a stronger more sustainable economy by Drs. Eugene B. Holiday Governor of Sint Maarten

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good evening,

It is good to join you at this gathering this evening. I bring you greetings from our sweet Sint Maarten. Back home life is, as you may expect, dominated by the consequences of hurricane Irma. In the next few minutes I shall therefore speak to you about the post-hurricane Irma state of affairs on our island and share my views with you on requirements for a more sustainable way forward.

The Initial Impact
On September 6 a category 5-plus hurricane named Irma – a name I shall never forget – passed through Sint Maarten and left behind a trail of damage. Three days later we had to take cover for the passing of Hurricane Jose which thankfully did not make landfall. And on Tuesday September 19, 2017 we were forced to brace for the impact of hurricane Maria. In short, in the span of two weeks, we endured and continue to endure the emotional and social toll of the impact and threat of three category 5 hurricanes. Seeing the damage to property and listening to the stories of the loss of treasured goods of so many is heartbreaking.

The impact of the record breaking winds of Irma followed by the rain of Maria is unparalleled. At least two persons lost their lives on our side of the island, several persons suffered injuries and our critical infrastructure has been hit hard. Many personal homes have been damaged, our schools have been damaged, many of our roads were blocked by debris, our telecommunication systems have been down, our electrical and water distribution networks have been affected, our airport has been damaged and many of our businesses and hotel properties have been affected. While taking stock of the damage to our physical infrastructure and to our natural environment I was saddened to see the unlawful and inexcusable looting of some. That behaviour clearly does not do justice to who we are as a Sint Maarten people. Behaviour that has only made matters more difficult for all of us.

In short we were knocked down flat on our back. But as a strong and resilient people we got back up, a bit dazed at first, dusted ourselves off and went to work.

Initial Response
Having assessed the situation it was necessary for the government to declare a state of emergency on September 8 to restore order. Today about 7 weeks later we have experienced a lot, learned a lot and achieved a lot thanks to the hard work and dedication of many. Hard work that is reflected in the fact that:
1. Our hospital never closed for operations and persons who had to be evacuated for medical help are returning;
2. Public order is being maintained and looters are being prosecuted;
3. Our roads have been cleared of debris and the cleaning up of debris in the districts is ongoing;
4. Emergency relief continues to be distributed in the districts;
5. The restoration of water supply to households and businesses is taking place gradually and alternative water distribution provisions have been put in place;
6. Electricity supply has been restored to large parts of the island;
7. Voice and data communication have in large part been restored;
8. Businesses such as supermarket outlets, banks and hardware suppliers have reopened;
9. Schools have reopened as of October 2, 2017;
10. The airport reopened for commercial flights on October 10;
11. The harbor has been receiving cargo and is ready to receive cruise ships; and
12. Government services have reopened to the public.

Yes, a lot of good things are happening. At the same time we must acknowledge that there is still much, so much more to be done. In that regard, it is our obligation, government and everyone who can contribute, to continue to do everything necessary to reach those who still need help.

However, while we still have a long way to go, we owe a debt of gratefulness to many persons. Persons who, having suffered damage to their property themselves and leaving their own families behind, continue to come out under difficult circumstances to make progress possible. Persons, such as, the members of the disaster management team and their support staff, firefighters, medical professionals, law enforcement officers, technicians and business-owners and their employees as well as many volunteers and local and international organizations such as the Red Cross, CORDAID , USAID, and Samaritan Purse. In particular, I wish to convey a word of thanks on behalf of the government and the people of Sint Maarten to our Kingdom partners, the Netherlands, Aruba and Curacao, who through the deployment of military officers and police officers have made invaluable contributions. To all who contributed and continue to do so, I say thank you for your service to the people of Sint Maarten.

The Way Forward
Going forward we will need to build on that same hardworking, resilient spirit of our people and on the solidarity of others. We will need everyone to join in to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure and economy one day at a time. One day at a time to regain the economic fallout and expected loss in foreign exchange from tourism, loss in employment and loss in government revenues. Today, tomorrow and each day thereafter we must, and I am convinced that we will, continue to take steps to ultimately secure the full recovery of our economy.
To achieve that it is imperative that we develop a comprehensive well coordinated recovery program. It is obvious that Sint Maarten will need additional external support to help make the execution of such a plan possible. History has taught us that we will need assistance.
• We can draw from our own history and experiences with hurricane Luis 22 years ago. At that time we developed a Short Term Economic Assessment and Recovery Program (generally referred to as the STEAR-program) and received substantial financial support from the Netherlands to help rebuild Sint Maarten.
• But we can also draw from the European experience of about 70 years ago. At that time the 4-year European Recovery Program, commonly known as the Marshall plan was developed and executed. In that plan the United States gave approximately USD.132 billion in economic support, in current dollar value, to help rebuild the war-devastated European economies after the end of World War II .
By reviewing those cases we can draw important lessons from the approaches and structures used in those situations.
The hurricane devastated economy of Sint Maarten will need a significant capital injection to jump start, rebuild and recover. The government of Sint Maarten has therefore established a work group to prepare a national recovery plan for Sint Maarten. In its interim-report the work-group estimates the damages to our infrastructure at approximately USD 1.8 billion. As a people, individually and collectively, we are thus faced with a major challenge going forward. Experience has taught us that we have no control over the passing of hurricanes, but by being smart we can control how we respond and mitigate the effects. As we take up this challenge it is important that we stay focused and united in the task at hand.
A task that calls for us to rebuild a stronger more sustainable general and economic infrastructure to better respond to future stronger hurricanes, caused by the effects of climate change. Anchored in sound general and financial governance, Sint Maarten’s Recovery plan must as a result by necessity include the following measures:
1. Stronger building codes for our homes, businesses and public facilities with the required enforcement;
2. Restructuring of our water production and distribution network to reduce its vulnerability to the effects of hurricanes;
3. Completion of the ongoing program of placing our electrical network underground;
4. Restructuring of our telecommunication network to reduce its vulnerability for the effects of hurricanes; and
5. Redevelopment towards a more climate robust economic and tourism product and strategy.
Considering the increased strength of the hurricanes it is obvious that we are not just faced with the rebuilding of our infrastructure and economy. We are also faced with the fight against the effects of global warming to secure the sustainability of our country and livelihood of our people. And we are not in this fight alone. After all we see the situation of our brothers and sisters on the Northern part of our island, as well as the situation in the neighboring islands of Anguilla, Dominica, Barbuda, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
The problem we face is therefore not just a Sint Maarten problem, it is global warming problem and all the countries of the Kingdom are at risk of being affected. The further development and handling of Sint Maarten’s Recovery Plan must therefore be viewed as part of the larger challenge to mitigate the negative effects of global warming to our island and people. This is a critical matter which requires an urgent solution for the current problems as well as a long term solution. The funding of the recovery is currently under consideration and I trust that this will be resolved in the interest of the people of Sint Maarten. In that respect and given the greater climate change debate, I believe that it is imperative that this situation should result in the creation of a structural approach in the form of a Kingdom Disaster Recovery Fund, funded by the people of all the countries of the Kingdom. By doing so we will strengthen our preparedness and effectiveness in the handling of future situations.

At the end of the day however, work will have to be done and it is as such essential that we all do our part and act now. In that regard, you can play a major role by being ambassadors for the Sint Maarten cause here in the Netherlands. This by helping to convey a more balanced narrative about our friendly island in the Netherlands.

As we face this major challenge before us, we can do so with the knowledge and resolve that we have been down difficult paths before and we overcame. I therefore believe that together we will rebound stronger again. This through concerted national action in collaboration with Kingdom and international partners. And for that I am, as always, counting on my trust in the boundless strength and resilience of “We the People of Sint Maarten”.
Thank you, God bless you and may God bless Sint Maarten and protect its coast.