THE Castries-based Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission will be working closely with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) in coordinating relief efforts for countries hit by Hurricane Irma.
The Commission’s Chairman, St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, and its Director General, Dr. Didicus Jules, both confirmed this at a meeting held on Tuesday night in the conference room of the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce.
Chastanet is also coordinating St. Lucia’s efforts at providing aid to sister islands of the organization affected by the hurricane.
He has already met with the various embassies to the OECS and on Tuesday night met with the Chamber of Commerce, St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA) and other sectors of the economy.
“We have been in touch with the British and the French. We have had calls with Martinique and Guadeloupe. We have also been in touch with the Dutch, which all have military boats standing by in anticipation of the effects of the hurricane,” Chastanet said.
According to Chastanet, the meeting had anticipated what the needs of the affected countries would be and was ensuring that water, canned foods and clothing were collected from St. Lucians, properly packaged and delivered as quickly as possible to the affected parties.
“We are also anticipating that those needs are going to change over a period of time and to make sure that information is being delivered in a meaningful way, the OECS Commission is going to be working extremely closely with CDEMA. But we also believe that this hurricane is so large and potentially so devastating that it is going to require a super effort on our part to be able to make sure we are taking care of everyone,” Chastanet said.
He said the possibility exists that St. Lucia may be used as an evacuation point, depending on how severe Guadeloupe is impacted and how busy Martinique may be.
“I am meeting with SLASPA (St. Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority) and the hotels association to see how many hotel rooms we have and what coordination we would have to put in place should it be necessary St. Lucia be used as an evacuation point,” Chastanet said.
Noorani Azeez, SLHTA’s CEO, confirmed this, stating that members are banding together to get a better sense of what their room inventory is liked in the event they would need to provide accommodation for evacuees coming from countries hit by Hurricane Irma.
“We are looking at the resources that are available from our Tourism Enhancement Fund should the need arise to put financing towards the cause. We stand with our sister private sector agencies and the Government of St. Lucia to provide whatever is needed to ease the suffering that might accompany the passage of these storms,” Azeez said.
Chastanet spoke of the coordinated efforts having to be seamless as another hurricane (Jose) is already bearing down on islands north of the Caribbean, following almost the exact trajectory of Hurricane Irma.
Dr. Jules said the Commission has a committee of disaster experts from across the OECS who are an extended part of CDEMA’s response mechanism. All information coming to the Commission is from CDEMA.
“We are looking to mobilize supplementary resources over and beyond what CDEMA normally does. For example the Chairman met with the diplomatic community in St. Lucia and we sought to get their support lined up for what we hope will not be as catastrophic as the predictions are,” Jules said adding that this will help in augmenting the resources CDEMA has at its disposal.
He also said this will provide real meaning to the idea of OECS integration because of the responsibility to ensure OECS Member States are taken care off.
Martin Dorville, Chamber of Commerce President, said the meeting with the various representatives of the various sectors of the economy was to understand clearly the nature of the support his members could provide.
He spoke of not wanting too much of something that is not absolutely needed. The issue of how communication is channeled and anticipating what would be needed by the affected countries.