GREAT BAY, Sint Maarten (DCOMM) – The Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague, the Netherlands, headed by Minister Jorien Wuite, welcomed stakeholders, representatives of various ministries, national and international organizations as well as professionals from the Sint Maarten diaspora in the Netherlands to an informative afternoon.
Here the audience were updated and informed of the recovery process by the Director of the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB), Claret Connor.
In his presentation, Connor highlighted the areas of progress thus far such as the early recovery component which had been implemented, thanks to the close and direct collaboration with the Steering Group and the World Bank.
Connor further elucidated on the project geared towards the assistance rendered to workers in the Sint Maarten hospitality sector in addition to unemployed and underemployed individuals whom were given the opportunity to upgrade their skills and return to the places of employment after the completion of the renovation of the properties where they were employed prior to hurricane Irma, or, find new work opportunities with their newly development skills, in the construction sector.
The director indicated that the disaster not only caused extensive damages to the island, uprooting many persons, but also, it afforded Sint Maarten the opportunity to revisit many policies and improve such, rebuild conscientiously and tackle long term social and economic ills.
Irma was an eye-opener on how to not only build back better, but more so on how to build back stronger on both infrastructural and economic and financial policies.
It may seem to many that the reconstruction and rebuilding is taking for-ever, he stated, but one must realize that the size and impact of a storm such as Hurricane Irma in itself was a phenomenon never before experienced on Sint Maarten.
How to respond to such a major catastrophe in itself was new to all, both on a national level as well as on an international level.
There are no quick fixes, no readily available guidelines and unfortunately no expertise on local level to immediately deal with the required challenges the island faced right after such a devastation that would bring Sint Maarten immediately back to and beyond to its former glory.
Highlighting the relationship with the Steering Committee, the Director indicated that all parties involved have grown into the respective roles and are communicating with a better and complete understanding of what is to be done to successfully rebuild and develop Sint Maarten.
In closing Connor issued a call to local professionals residing in the Netherlands, to consider returning to Sint Maarten to work and assist in the recovery process using their individual expertise, adding that this is direly needed.
The director outlined the status of the four ongoing projects consisting of:
Emergency repairs and disaster preparedness (55.2 million USD), Emergency Income Support and Training (22.5 million USD), Debris Management, Fire Suppression Landfill and Shipwreck Salvaging (25 million USD); and Upgrades to the existing hospital, and co-financing new facilities (25 million USD).
Other Projects which have been presented to the Steering Committee consists of: Small Business Recovery Project; Airport Terminal Reconstruction Project; Long-term Solid Waste; Connectivity – road construction and road safety; Digital Governance – ICT solutions for public services; Non-Governmental Organization collaborations and School Improvements.
After the process of reconstruction has been completed, Sint Maarten will be better equipped to strengthen its hub function and be able to assist other Caribbean countries faced with similar issues moving forward.
Following the presentation, Minister Wuite emphasized that the informative session was meant to sensitize and have a conversation through engagement with the audience in attendance which consisted of many professionals of the Sint Maarten Diaspora.
Questions raised ranged from Road Security in the wake of the many fatal accidents on the island, which called for not only technical and structural road infrastructure, but also including the necessary legislation.
Another very important question posed by a young professional was “what role could the Youth of the Sint Maarten diaspora could play in the recovery process of Sint Maarten.”
At the closing of the presentation by the National Recovery Program Bureau, the Student coordinator along with a student in the final stages of completing her Masters study in the field of Architecture made a presentation of the work some 35 students made based on their study oriented field trip to Sint Maarten for the special curriculum Extreme Architecture.
The purpose of their field trip to Sint Maarten was to familiarize themselves not only with the island, but more so incorporate their findings in the creation of a scale model for the still to be built multi-functional structure which would house the Library, the National Heritage Center, Simarc and Shelters.
During a visit to the Technical University of Delft, Minister Wuite and her staff were informed by the students that took part in this assignment, that they had allowed themselves to be inspired by the surroundings. They all remained focused on the durability and soundness of the structural enforcement of the building enabling it to withstand a category 5 hurricane as well as earthquakes.
While on the island the students, in cooperation with UNICEF, carried out community service by brightening up the façade of a day care center, repairing and painting the fencing.
Both the Coordinator of TU Delft and the student thanked all those who made this study assignment on Sint Maarten a success. The displays and of the scale models will be at the Cabinet until after the summer recess. It has already been determined that another group of 65 Masters students from the Netherlands will be returning to the island, next year April, to do another project.
The National Recovery Program Bureau applauds this effort and will assist in the creation of a possible new assignment.