The Hague performed fairly well after hurricanes, show evaluation

The Dutch government is prepared if another disaster was to hap­pen in the Dutch Caribbean. That is the conclusion of the policy evaluation of article 8 of the Kingdom Relations budget, Reconstruction Windward Islands.

The objective of the policy assessment of article 8 was to provide an answer to the question how effective and efficient the Dutch assis­tance was after the Septem­ber 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Dutch State Sec­retary for Kingdom Rela­tions and Digitalisation Al­exandra van Huffelen stated in her letter to the Dutch Second Chamber of Parlia­ment on Tuesday.

“In this policy assessment, I am especially looking for is an answer to the question as to whether we in the Neth­erlands are prepared for a future disaster or crisis situ­ation in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom,” stated Van Huffelen.

The assessment was done on the request of the Dutch government and covers the period September 17, 2017 up to and including Decem­ber 31, 2021. Because of the great impact of hurricanes in St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba, the government wanted to know what the best approach is for emer­gency assistance and recon­struction on the islands.

“In September 2017, parts of our Kingdom were hit by a catastrophe. Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused a lot of human suffering and caused great damage in St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. This has had an im­mense impact on the people living there, I noticed dur­ing my visits,” stated Van Huffelen.

“After the destruction, the Netherlands offered as­sistance whereby the prin­ciple Building Back Better was applied to be better prepared for future hurri­canes or other disasters of the same calibre with the point of departure that the residents of the islands and their wellbeing are placed first. Due to the large im­pact, it is important to as­sess the Dutch input to see which lessons learned can be used in case of a possible new disaster or crisis situa­tion,” wrote the state secre­tary.

The independent research­ers concluded that the Min­istry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK performed relatively well. This, despite the limited preparation time and ex­perience with leading and coordinating a crisis of this size, it was stated in a press release of the Dutch govern­ment on Tuesday.

Main roads, the airport and harbour in St. Maarten were relatively quickly func­tional after the hurricanes. The emergency assistance in Saba and St. Eustatius was successful and the re­construction there started swiftly. St. Maarten’s recon­struction continues unabat­ed and the researchers are positive about the process of the large infrastructural projects financed through the Trust Fund Reconstruc­tion St. Maarten.

But there is room for im­provements. The research­ers recommended to thor­oughly think up front about the size of the needed sup­port from the Netherlands and assistance requests from the islands have to be formulated more clearly.

Other recommendations concern the providing of assistance to the islands in preparing for emergency situations, the developing of emergency aid and recon­struction plans, and the put­ting in order of the internal documentation of the pro­vided emergency aid.

The researchers also men­tioned the importance of better communication with the islands, especially the manner in which the Neth­erlands communicated to St. Maarten about the con­ditions for the reconstruc­tion. According to the re­searchers, this communica­tion could have been done in a more sensitive and sym­pathetic way.

Van Huffelen stated in her letter to the Second Cham­ber that she found the rec­ommendation about com­munication important. “I am of the opinion that good communication between the countries in the Kingdom is essential. We can only achieve concrete results for the people if we better re­late to each other and work more closely together. Mu­tual trust, reciprocity and equality are crucial in this and brings with it shared re­sponsibilities,” she stated.

According to the state secretary, several lessons learned were implemented and steps have been set with­in the crisis management in the building of capacity and the training of people both in the Netherlands and in the Dutch Caribbean.

In order to prepare the Dutch response to future disasters, changes were im­plemented at the Ministry of BZK after the assistance phase, based on evaluations. A crisis team was set up and together with the Ministry of Justice and Security, a handbook crisis manage­ment was drafted for the Dutch Caribbean. An action plan is being drafted that indicates the set objectives, the impact and results of emergency assistance.

The reconstruction of Saba and St. Eustatius has been concluded. The reconstruc­tion in St. Maarten is still ongoing. In June 2022, the Trust Fund was extended until the end of 2028, which the researchers considered positive. This means that there is sufficient time to thoroughly conclude the re­construction projects.

The Netherlands assists St. Maarten to prepare for future crises by making knowledge and expertise available and by strengthen­ing and supporting the col­laboration with the World Bank, which manages the Trust Fund on behalf of the donor, the Netherlands. The Dutch government strives to implement all recommenda­tions and improvements be­fore the start of the new hur­ricane season in June 2023. The Sint Maarten Recon­struction, Recovery and Re­silience Trust Fund ultimate­ly received 438.1 million euros, after the deduction of 16.9 million euros for liquid­ity support for St. Maarten during the COVID-19 pan­demic and 15 million euros for the Country package St. Maarten. The total amount does not include the 7 mil­lion euros that was added to the Trust Fund for the St. Maarten hospital project.

The Daily Herald.

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