It is not too early to start to think about moving forward after the all-clear is given in relation to the eruption of La Soufriere, says Opposition Leader Godwin Friday.
He told a New Democratic Party (NDP) press conference in Kingstown, on Wednesday, that the eruption, “gives us an opportunity to think big, to reimagine what the northern third of our country could be, to see the true potential in our country, to see the people in the land and to integrate it much more effectively into the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
After a three-month long effusive eruption, La Soufriere erupted explosively on April 9, for the first time since 1979.
The latest figures from the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) are that 6,208 persons or 156 families are staying at 85 public shelters in the safe zone and 6,790 persons representing 1,618 families were in private residences.
“We can’t wait until the scientists give the all clear and say people can go back to their homes and then we start to figure out what do we do when they get back there.
“How do we assist people who have lost seven out of 10 sheep, whose cattle are scattered, whose crops are dead, whose roofs have fallen in? We have to start planning now as to how we assist in the recovery, but beyond that, in the rebuilding.”
Friday said that involving the displaced and affected persons in the rebuilding has a material effect in that they earn an income.
“But it also, psychologically, gives that sense of empowerment … that we are rebuilding; we are doing this, all of us together, cleaning up our community, getting ready to restart.”
He, therefore, urged the authorities to use the local villagers or contractors to ensure they are given the jobs to remove the ash and repair public property.
“And you must pay them from the receipts that the government will receive or from other designated funds to help people in the affected areas.”
He said that this will give jobs to people who have lost their livelihood from the eruption and as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In other words, we recognise that this disaster, as is generally the case with such events, brings not only destruction but also opportunities. You know the old saying, ‘Behind every dark cloud there is a silver lining’,” the opposition leader said.
He said that the NDP is, therefore, calling for a national task force to plan the recovery and reconstruction, “the rebuilding of our future in the north.
“This is a national project. It must be broad based and inclusive, not just confined to the limited expertise of a few politicians in government. The opposition is the majority party in the country,” Friday said, referring to the number of votes the party received in the November 2020 polls.
“We have a role to play in this and we are willing to do so inclusively as part of a national team or we will do our part no matter what.”
He said that the taskforce should include people from civil society, people with special experience and expertise to bring to bear on tackling the immediate problems of safety, the clean-up and “planning in a really forward thinking and progressive way as to how to build greater resilience and sustainability in the community up to the north.
“That is really the only way to go, as far as I am concerned, because there is so much potential there and we should use the resources that will come to the hands of the government to plan for that process, to execute that process and to do so in an inclusive way,” the opposition leader said.
He said there must also be a comprehensive environmental assessment of the damage that was done to habitats, to flora and to fauna “to see also how we can help nature to rebuild, to create conditions for the resurgence of our animal life there. Protect the environment so that as we go forward, we will be productive but we will also be beautiful and we will also be doing so in an environmentally-sustainable way as we go forward.”
The opposition leader said these are “really big issues as to how we plan, and plan in a way that is new and different from how we have done in the past, transformational; these require new ideas, big ideas, and we will engage in our own further consultations with other persons who have special expertise and will develop more and more how we see this going forward and present them in forums like this or others.”