My fellow residents of the Virgin Islands, we have just passed the five month marker of the catastrophic hurricanes Irma and Maria and I thought it important that we update ourselves as to where we are with our recovery process and offer hope and encouragement for a stronger, more resilient and brighter future. I also take this opportunity to clear the air on significant misinformation about the role of your Government during this challenging period.
None of us could have predicted the physical or psychological devastation we experienced after the storms. Approximately 80 percent of our homes and businesses were severely damaged or destroyed. Our roads, communication systems, energy supply, water supply, virtually all of our infrastructure were unusable.
As a country, all of us experienced a great shock, and as a part of that experience we, your representatives, were not exempted. However, we knew that we had to spring into action and we did. Since this was an unprecedented catastrophe, there was no manual and some of the immediate behaviour of a few of our people was unexpected and disappointing. Governor Jaspert in consultation with our Cabinet immediately declared a state of emergency – the very night as the winds were still blowing, later implemented a curfew and requested assistance from the United Kingdom to secure ourselves, what remained of our properties, and to stabilise our country.
Further assessment revealed that we were in immediate need of the basic essentials of water, food, shelter, clothing, sanitation, and communication. Fortunately, most of our health services and main facility, Peebles Hospital, remained intact with minor damage. Our internal volunteer service and non-governmental organisations came to our rescue and the international community responded generously to our request for assistance. Our government departments sprang into action and our relief and restoration efforts had begun.
The tremendous outpouring of worldwide support we received precludes me from singling out any individual or group of donors. However, I take this opportunity on behalf of the people of these Virgin Islands to express my sincerest gratitude to all of the individuals, volunteer and non-governmental organisations and governments from around the world who have assisted us and continue to assist us during this our time of great need. I must also highly commend all of our civil servants for their dedication, commitment and the tremendous sacrifices they have made toward our relief, restoration and recovery efforts. They have much improved the quality of our lives in the shortest possible time.
Immediately after the hurricanes, my government recognised that there were important necessary strategies to employ. Along with our emergency relief efforts, our recovery heavily depended on the rehabilitation of our infrastructure and our economy as quickly as was humanly possible. Our Department of Disaster Management immediately established a control and command centre at Peebles Hospital. We established a relief coordination and distribution centre within the Ministry of Health and Social Development and secured our Financial Services Sector with the help of the Financial Services Commission, BVI Finance and the industry. This helped us to maintain a continuous level of national income. Simultaneously, we sought and received assistance from the international community for building materials, reinforcement of human resources where necessary and financial assistance. As our relief and restoration efforts continued, our recovery began.
Within three short months, our Sanitation and Public Works Department had done a significant amount of cleaning up and our roads were passable again; our Water and Sewerage and Electricity Departments had restored services to a number of homes and businesses; communication services to a considerable portion of our country was restored by our communications industry partners; and access to health care services remained uninterrupted.
Having re-established sea and air access to our Territory and offering financial and technical assistance to homes and businesses, the Tourism sector of our economy was jumpstarted. The Marine sub-sector led the way with the transfer of yachts from their overseas locations to the BVI; and with repairs to our less-damaged hotels and repairs to our cruise pier development, the arrival of overnight and cruise visitors begun.
I am pleased to report that as of February 1st 2018, there are only 36 persons remaining in public shelters. 60 percent of the insured have received payments; and a tribunal has been established to assist with the mitigation of disputed insurance claims and to expedite settlements; more than 3,500 individuals have received financial assistance through a programme by the BVI Red Cross with support of the Government; 328 uninsured homeowners have received assistance from our Housing Programme to date. Our most vulnerable continue to receive support from our Social Development Department; all of our major roads are passable, remedial work continues as needed and designs have been completed for the Paraquita Bay to Long Swamp road; 95 percent of potable water has been restored to the eastern zone, 100 percent to the central zone, and our Water and Sewerage team continues to work arduously to restore water services to the western zone. The Cappoons Bay plant has been brought online and residents should begin receiving water shortly. The Sewerage network in Road Town is largely functional and back-up generators are to be installed to supply power when there is a power outage. Electricity services have been restored to about 90 percent of the Territory and I expect that by the end of March, 100 percent will be restored. All of our children are back in school, and we are at the design stage of the repair and rebuilding of our education infrastructure. All of our beaches have been restored and useable; 70 percent of the public spaces have been cleared of debris and derelict vehicles. Our healthcare services at Peebles Hospital remains at 100 percent while the repair of our clinics continue. 75 percent of our Telecommunications voice and data infrastructure has been restored, and our Telecommunications partners are working with the TRC (Telecommunications Regulatory Commission) to rebuild all infrastructures to a predetermined minimum standard.
While there are many persons still to receive some essential services, it is safe to say that the general quality of our lives has remarkably improved over the past six months. Our Administration has implemented a number of programmes to assist with our relief, restoration and recovery. There is the Housing Assistance Programme, the Business Assistance Programme, and the Public Assistance Programme, I encourage you to take full advantage of these opportunities that have been created to improve the effectiveness of our recovery process.
To conclude, I take a moment to reflect on the resilient spirit of all of the residents of this Territory and to thank and commend you for your faith in God; your patience, hard work, commitment and sacrifice during our relief and recovery efforts that have brought us thus far so quickly from so much devastation.
To fulfill our promise of a brighter and more resilient future for our Territory, your Government has created a comprehensive draft housing plan and a draft development plan for your review. We have been coming to all of our communities to discuss our plans and receive your input. I urge you to make your voices heard. With the conclusion of the recovery and development plan consultations and the inclusion of your suggestions we will be ready to move forward with our restoration and rebuilding process.
We have received a 65 million dollar loan from the Caribbean Development Bank which will go a long way toward restoring and improving our infrastructure. Her Majesty’s government has contributed significantly to our security, and as well as giving grants of up to $31 million dollars, amenable to guaranteeing further monies up to $400 million dollars for our development. This too, will have a tremendous social and economic development impact on our country.
My fellow residents, we are bouncing back stronger and better than we were before. Now is the time to fight against the spirit of division and discord and criminal activity. Now is the time to stand as a people – united. Now is the time for us to put our hands to the plow and work together to restore our country to a place where it is stronger, more resilient and more sustainable – a place where it can realise its full potential and fulfill its destiny of greatness.
Thank you very much for listening. May God continue to give us the faith, the patience and the courage to restore and develop a stronger and more beautiful Virgin Islands. BVI Strong.