TAIPEI, Taiwan:- St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is now in a “very difficult” and “very challenging situation” after two natural disasters over a six-month period that devastated parts of the country, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told Vincentians in Taiwan on Friday, April 22.
Hurricane Tomas damaged 1,200 houses, sending hundred into emergency shelters, destroyed the nation’s banana trees and left an estimated EC$65 million (US$24 million) in damage to the agricultural sector last October.
Torrential rains in mid-April caused flash flooding in north central St. Vincent that resulted in landslides and several rivers overflowing their banks, washing away vehicles, damaging houses and flooding others.
“The back-to-back disasters have really stretched us. We are still in the process of reconstructing after Tomas and this rainstorm, landslide, thunderstorm, everything came in the height of the dry season and caused more damage to the public infrastructure, road, bridges, rivers, than did Tomas,” Gonsalves said.
“Tomas caused the problems to agriculture and Tomas caused the problems to houses, many hundreds of houses and we are still dealing with the problem,” he added.
Gonsalves said that some 50 persons were still being housed at Langley Park Government School in Georgetown but that his government would have to make alternative arrangements for them so that Grade 6 student can prepare for the Common Entrance Exam at the end of May.
“We required over EC$100 million for Tomas. We require about EC$100 million for this disaster. The Taiwanese are being helpful to us with some additional monies. Plus, we are unlocking some loans with them,” Gonsalves told the gathering of mostly students at a dinner in Taipei.
He said his government was working along with the Caribbean Development Bank, the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela, and ALBA to rebuild the country.
“We have life, we have friends, and we have Almighty God. And we will get there, but it will be painful. It is not going to be easy,” Gonsalves said.
He said that his administration would shift resources to deal with “these immediate matters”.
He, however, noted that the price of oil and food was on the increase internationally, adding that his administration has had to increase the price of sugar and flour in SVG because of increases on the market.
Gonsalves further said that SVG was still battling with the continuation of the fallout of the economic crisis and the problems of the failed British American Insurance Company and CLICO.
He told the students that his government hoped to begin the process of “rolling out” the one laptop per child policy soon.
However, with only 15,000 of the 30,000 units required in hand, Gonsalves said that he hoped that the Socrates government in Portugal, one of the countries financing the initiative, will be returned to office in Portugal in June, having this month lost a vote of confidence on the budget.