WASHINGTON, USA — Antigua and Barbuda Ambassador Sir Ronald Sanders briefed members of the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, in Washington, DC, on the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma on Barbuda, which was “decimated and destroyed”, describing the situation on the island as a natural disaster and a humanitarian crisis.
“For the first time in 300 years, there is not a living person on Barbuda. A society of people who lived for generations on that island had to be plucked away from all that they own, all that they know, all that defined them as a people,” Sanders said, noting that the government was compelled to evacuate the entire population of the island to Antigua, with the help of the Venezuelan government, which was the first responder to the disaster.
There is no potable water, no electricity and such buildings that are left are pitiful wrecks, incapable of providing shelter and dangerous to enter, he continued.
Hurricane Irma, with winds gusting to 220 mph, overwhelmed the island of Barbuda in size, strength and ferocity.
Sanders played a video to the Permanent Council illustrating the devastation on Barbuda:
He noted that the population of the larger island of Antigua increased by three percent, suddenly, unexpectedly and with no opportunity for planning.
“No country can suddenly absorb an increase of three percent of its population,” Sanders said, noting that those evacuated included 500 schoolchildren for whom places must now be found so that their education would not be interrupted.
He noted that a massive rebuilding programme in Barbuda that is sustainable and resilient to further disasters has to be devised and implemented, the early cost estimates of which are in the region of US$250 million, which is 20 percent of Antigua and Barbuda’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“It is not a task that my government and the people of my country will shirk, but we are realistic enough to know we can never accomplish it alone,” Sanders said, noting that several foreign governments have come forward with offers of help, including member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Venezuela, Chile and Canada.
“We are not asking the international community for help because we want, we are asking for help because we need,” Sanders said, echoing the words of Antigua and Barbuda Prime minister Gaston Browne.
“Barbuda is a natural disaster but it is also a humanitarian crisis, which cries out for a humanitarian response,” Sanders concluded.
In an earlier interview with Voice of America, Sanders urged the United States, irrespective of any financial aid, to make good on a World Trade Organization (WT) adjudicated award related to internet gambling, which his government has calculated to be worth about $270 million.
The dispute, which dates from 2004, remains unresolved despite a declaration by the United States Trade Representative’s office in July 2015 that the two sides had met and that “both governments have undertaken to continue the discussion at an early date” with a view to reaching a final settlement.
“We are now in this crisis, if ever they want to settle this with us, now is the time,” Sanders said. “We are a small island state, we don’t have the vast territory of the United States, nor the huge infrastructure that you have, but the infrastructure which we have is important to us and to our survival.”