Unicef has called for the international community to offer more assistance to the devastated Caribbean islands following Hurricane Irma, saying governments around the world seemed to be relying on Britain, France and the Netherlands to respond to the disaster, reports The Guardian.
The powerful hurricane tore through the Caribbean islands last week, killing at least 34 people and flattening entire communities before wreaking destruction on the US state of Florida on Sunday.
Most of the Caribbean islands affected are overseas territories controlled by the United Kingdom, France, the US and the Netherlands.
“People are concerned, there is a general sense that [the British Virgin Islands] is British government territory and therefore the British will handle it,” said Khin-Sandi Lwin, who is leading Unicef’s response in the Caribbean.
“So we haven’t been able to raise the funds from other governments at the moment. This is where I do think we need a much bigger international response to the funding that’s needed.
“At the moment we are operating on regular funds we have for our ongoing programs. We put aside money – about $800,000 – to get our first response up, but it means our regular programs into next year will be down. We do need that additional funding – about US$2.3m.”
Both France and the UK have launched relief efforts, including thousands of troops or police. The UK government has set aside a £32m aid package and will match public donations to the Red Cross appeal. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said he would visit St Martin on Tuesday, while his UK counterpart, Theresa May continues to face calls she should visit the region. Canada has announced a $160,000 aid package.
NGOs and emergency services were responding to the disaster, with Unicef focusing on child protection and shelter, but efforts were being hampered by high seas and inoperable airports. Lwin also warned of the threat of mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue, zika and chikungunya.
Lwin said Antigua and Barbuda were “totally devastated” and “absolutely flattened out”.
About 90% of buildings in Anguilla were damaged, she said, and preliminary feedback from teams in the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands, said the situation was much worse than anticipated.
“We’re talking 28-30,000 population – they’re all small islands but the devastation is quite extensive,” she said.
“That means people are without shelter, there’s no water in Turks and Caicos. Water supplies are contaminated and there was no groundwater to start with. We need to get water and food and shelter as a first response. We’re working with the British government in particular, but also the disaster management group in Barbados.”
Lwin said the response had been “mixed”, and the nations that control the overseas territories had been focused on governance and controlling crime outbreaks. There was an increased risk of violence – particularly towards women and children – in the aftermath of a disaster. Looting and a prison outbreak had taken place in Tortola, where the UK government has sent troops.
People were able to take shelter from the storm, she said, but many of those shelters were “totally inappropriate” for people who were now homeless.
“When you’ve got mixed group in shelters you have the potential of families not being able to protect their own children, and protection is an issue for women and children,” she said.
“We’re trying to get tarpaulins out to Turks and Caicos as we speak, hygiene kits and other immediate supplies, we are mobilising.”
Lwin’s comments came as entrepreneur and British Virgin Islands resident, Richard Branson, who sheltered from the storm on his private island, called for a Marshall plan to respond to the disaster, amid concerns about a humanitarian disaster and potential civil unrest.
“The UK government will have a massive role to play in the recovery of its territories affected by Irma – both through short-term aid and long-term infrastructure spending,” he wrote in a blog post.
“The region needs a ‘disaster recovery Marshall plan’ for the BVI and other territories that will aid in recovery, sustainable reconstruction and long-term revitalisation of the local economy. This will have to include building resilience against what is likely to be a higher intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, as the effects of climate change continue to grow.”
As well as the overseas territories, sovereign nations including the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Haiti were also affected, despite escaping the worst of the storm. Havana was flooded, coastal communities were cut off, and scores of homes destroyed.