St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Dominica, Turks & Caicos Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico are only a few of the islands that were hit directly or indirectly by hurricanes this summer.
Other than expressing my thoughts to our fellow islanders and writing this piece, I feel there isn’t much I can do here from Aruba. It is extremely disheartening to see the aftermath of storms and the damage it has caused, from the casualties to the livelihood of people.
Now that it seems that most press has left the islands, the ramifications are now becoming more clear. Some islands suffered minor infrastructural damage while other territories are in complete disarray. Below I found a short video about the hardship soon after hurricane Irma passed British Virgin Islands (BVI).
Sister Island St. Maarten
Most of Aruba’s attention goes out to our fellow Dutch island of St. Maarten. Aruba shares history, politics, culture, and the head of state with St. Maarten, which is why we call St. Maarten our sister island.
Response from Aruba, Curaçao and The Netherlands
The first ship to be deployed to St. Maarten with relief was Royal Netherlands Navy vessel Zr.Ms. Zeeland (P841). The Zeeland is stationed in our neighboring island Curaçao, but departed the port of Oranjestad, Aruba on September 4th, 2017, which is two days before hurricane Irma hit St. Maarten.
Zr.Ms. Zeeland was the first vessel to arrive in St. Maarten to help aid with relief products and security. Additionally, Red Cross was deployed, Aruban militia and local police to help right after the storm.
Royal Netherlands Armed Forces, through their Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force evacuated victims and patients to Aruba and Curaçao by establishing an air corridor from St. Maarten.
Dutch Airliner KLM helped evacuate victims as well, by allocating their largest plane on their fleet, the Boeing 747-406, to the islands. It is the first time since 2010 that a Boeing 747 landed in Aruba, coincidently.
As soon as the runway at world famous St. Maarten’s Juliana International Airport was cleared of debris, one of the first groups of evacuees were dialysis patients. On a Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard aircraft, a Dash 8, about 50 passengers were flown into Aruba to receive further treatment at our local hospital.
For the limited resources and capacity that Aruba has in terms of the relief effort, St. Maarten has shown gratitude for the effort the islands, together with The Netherlands, have offered the people of St. Maarten.
The recovery effort in many islands is full speed ahead. Although there is a lot of work to do and resources to allocate, most territories are quickly fixing the critical part of the economy and society in general.
In most cases, the seaports and airports are getting reopened quickly. St. Maarten already announced that the airport is open for business, while the seaport can already accept cargo ships that can bring goods to the island.
St. Maarten also announced that the seaport is reopening in November 2017 for cruise ships, which is a very important part of their economy.
Hotels in St. Maarten indicated that the clean up of their properties is almost finished and are almost ready for business at press time.
The recovery efforts in general, however, will take time and some experts suggest the price tag to completely rebuild St. Maarten alone is of about of $1 billion.
The most important part of a relief effort is arguably water, food, and housing. There are other issues as well, such as the normalizing of the food supply chain, normalizing the healthcare service and reopening of schools.
How about other issues, such as work? What do you do when your work in the tourism industry has been wiped out? What do you do with the financial obligations, such as mortgage payments and utility bills?
Below a list of countries that rely most on tourism in the world, according to World Atlas. In that list, you see British Virgin Islands at number 3, Aruba at number 4 and St. Maarten (former Netherlands Antilles) at number 9.
Though questions, not a lot of answers at this point.
Meanwhile Elsewhere in the Caribbean
Every time a storm passes in the region, some seem to think that the storm ravages through all the region, but this is not the case. According to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, about 30% of the Caribbean was directly affected by the storms, which means that 70% was not.
Updated for errors.