Christmas is usually a time of cheer, but this year many people in Sint Maarten and Dominica may be hard-pressed to find things to be cheerful about as they try to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The islands were among a number in the Caribbean chain ravaged by the hurricanes in September, with lives many lost and the islands left without basic necessities such water.
The rebuilding process has been slow. Guy Wilson, a Trinidadian aviation consultant who lives in Sint Maarten, said, “It’s been very slow. There are still some places –not many – that still don’t have electricity. There are different communities, where they still need to have roofs back on their houses, they still don’t have water. It is not widespread but there are places where things have not come back up to speed just yet.”
Wilson chronicled his experiences with Hurricane Irma via Facebook posts, which were republished in Newsday in September.
The process has not been held back by lack of will but rather politics. Wilson said government intervention in the rebuilding process was stymied by a motion of no-confidence in the then Government. “They fell out of grace as they lost a motion of no-confidence in the prime minister and the cabinet. This has kind of slowed down the expected aid from the Dutch government.”
He said fresh elections would not be held until next February. And although aid is coming in, he added, it was not to the required extent. “Things have been slow and it is specifically after the politics that took place after the hurricane.”
A November 24 article on nltimes.nl said, “Early this month Sint Maarten’s parliament declared no confidence against the island’s government and Marlin (William) himself due to his actions before, during and after Hurricane Irma. By not stepping down, Marlin is violating a basic rule of constitutional law, which states that a Prime Minister should leave when there is no trust in him.
“The Netherlands is prepared to donate millions of euros for reconstruction on Sint Maarten, but did stipulate conditions. These include letting the Netherlands take over border controls on the island and setting up an integrity chamber to make sure that money from the aid fund is spent responsibly. Sint Maarten’s government must first agree to these conditions, before the Netherlands will provide this aid.
“Marlin refused to accept the conditions, which resulted in the motion of no-confidence against him and all but one of his ministers,” the article added.
Wilson is okay for now, although he has had housing repairs to do. Initially, getting supplies into the country was difficult, but now most supermarkets have been back to normal with stocks on the shelf.
However, the major obstacle to a joyous Christmas in Sint Maarten is unemployment. With Christmas around the corner, many people, Wilson said, remained out of work because of damage to hotels, restaurants and other businesses. “The regular jobs have basically just disappeared because the hotels have not reopened, nor will it reopen until next year, and so on.” This, he said, was affecting everyone and their Christmas.
Instead of cheer, “You can feel a kind of melancholy in the air. People who you would normally see with a smile and a laugh on their face are just wondering if it is going to happen tomorrow. People’s tempers are very short...things are hard, money not coming in, you don’t know where your next cent coming from, you still don’t have a roof on your head, it raining in the night. Some people are really at their end.”
In Dominica, Brent Hector, country co-ordinator for the NGO Is There Not A Cause (ITNAC), said the recovery was at different stages throughout the country because some parts were hit harder than others. “The clean-up was quick but the recovery was slow.”
He said, however, there is a Christmas buzz in places in Roseau, though areas close by, like Canefield, still have not had electricity completely restored. In Rosea there is some commerce and almost a return to normality.
“Shops that were not destroyed are being reopened. I understand KFC is scheduled to be reopened this Saturday. There are taxis working. You go downtown to Roseau, there is traffic congestion like normal. Further south the story might be slightly different.”
Despite homes being lost and having to be without, most Dominicans move on with life. “In La Plaine they did a tree-lighting yesterday. They have been trying. In general, people would have lost their homes, their jobs and even lost somebody. That is the reality. You have people experiencing that level of grief. Some places were closed down and people were laid off – but the Dominican people are like Trinidadians to an extent. They are laid back and they are going to go to church and drink and have a time.”
Although the place has been cleaned up, Hector asked, “How do people rebuild their lives?”
ITNAC has collected toys and other items which will be sent and distributed to Dominicans to aid in making their Christmas a little brighter.