STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
DURING THE SEVENTH SITTING OF THE FIRST SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Thursday, 17th October, 2019
Update on Hurricane Season
Mr. Speaker, I wish to take a few brief moments to reflect on our experience thus far with respect to the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season.
There have been 12 named storms and one tropical depression recorded in our region for this year, with about six weeks still to go in the season. Three major storms came within the vicinity of the Territory.
Dorian was initially forecasted to pass very far from the BVI, but took a late unexpected northward turn which brought it very close to the Territory. Dorian tracked just to the South of Tortola on August 28, approaching as a Tropical Storm and upgrading to Category One while near to us.
Thankfully, there was no loss of life, serious injury or major property damage. There was some localised flooding in the vicinity of Purcell Estate and the port, but this was not nearly as bad as it could have been. Preparatory works conducted by the Ministry of Transportion, Works and Utilities, by all indications, appeared to have succeeded in significantly mitigating the effects of the heavy and prolonged rainfall brought by Dorian at several of the traditionally vulnerable locations on Tortola.
You would recall, Mr Speaker, that the Honourable Minister for Transportation, Works and Utilities, the Representative for the 5th District, had informed this Honourable House around June that he and his team at the Ministry and Public Works would be taking some proactive measures to get major drains, ghuts and watercourses across the Territory cleared in anticipation of the hurricane season. For this, they must all be highly commended, especially the staff at the Public Works Department.
Category One Hurricane Jerry passed North of the Territory on September 20 bringing heavy rains and strong winds to the BVI, in particular Anegada.
Tropical Storm Karen seemed set to give the BVI a close shave on September 23, but fortunately for all, it weakened to a Tropical Depression and only brought some rain and winds.
Mr Speaker, while we were blessed to be spared the worst of the storms this time around – so far – our neighbours were not so fortunate.
The US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico felt stronger impacts from Dorian and Karen as these systems tracked closer to them.
Of course, as we all know, Abaco and Grand Bahama in The Bahamas were devastated by Dorian which hit on September 1 as a Category 5 hurricane, and which became parked over the Grand Bahama until the afternoon of September 3, pulverising residents and their homes with 185 mph winds for about 36 hours straight. The Bahamas also got drenched during the passage of Jerry.
You would recall that in the approach and aftermath of Dorian’s landfall in The Bahamas, I maintained contact with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, to provide some moral support, empathy and technical advice.
As concerned neighbours, the BVI dispatched two representatives from the Department for Disaster Management (DDM) to The Bahamas in the immediate aftermath to work with the regional team from Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency in getting the response systems up and running.
The DDM also collaborated with our local NGOs and civic organisations such as the Rotary Club of Tortola and the Lions Club to source and deliver relief supplies to The Bahamas. The Lions Club assisted with the collection of donated items. The Rotary Club raised $150,000 through a telethon in aid of The Bahamas in which ordinary private citizens – including children – pledged from as little as $1 and upwards. Some of our corporate citizens were very generous in donating cash, food, water and supplies.
The Government of the Virgin Islands has pledged a donation of $100,000 towards The Bahamas’ recovery.
I am pleased that as a Territory we were able to provide support to The Bahamas through the DDM where the Deputy Director Dr. Evangeline Innis-Springer provided support to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Needs Assessment Team and the National Emergency Operations Centre, while Mr. Cecil Jeffrey provided logistics management expertise to the Regional Health Emergency Response Team of the Pan American Health Organisation.
Additionally, on October 7, four Linesmen from the BVI Electricity Corporation - Trevor ‘West’ Stevens, Jason Clyne, Damien Richardson and Shaquil ‘Shack’ Samuel - departed the Territory for 30 days to assist with the restoration of electricity on Abaco Islands and the surrounding cays in The Bahamas. Recognition must also go to Mr Leroy Abraham, the Director of the BVIEC for his strong leadership and the corporation.
Mr Speaker, if anyone can empathise with the people of The Bahamas, we the people of the Virgin Islands can, because only two years ago we faced what they are facing at present – albeit their situation is worse because the latest death toll from Dorian is 61 confirmed fatalities with about 600 persons still unaccounted for, and they are dealing with a spill of about 1.5 million gallons of oil from a damaged storage facility.
We continue to keep our neighbours, not just in The Bahamas but throughout the Caribbean region and the American mainland, in our prayers, because year after year we are learning that we have to expect the unexpected.
Weather patterns have changed from what they were known to be just a few years ago, and they continue to change for the worse each year.
Strange and previously inconceivable phenomenon is being witnessed with the weather and with the behaviour of storms so that to loyally abide by traditional models is to do so at our own peril.
Things are not as we knew them to be. We are witnessing more powerful storms and hurricanes being formed. They are developing in more rapid succession. It is happening more and more frequently. Their behaviour is unusual and unpredictable, often deviating from the forecast models. They are more destructive. They are defying the known science, and changing and redefining the science.
We have the front-row seat to the destructive, vicious cycle of climate change, which is spurred on by such factors as global warming, rising ocean temperatures and melting of ice sheets, to name a few, and to which the consequences include rising sea levels, destruction of habitats – sensitive and otherwise, upsetting of ecosystems, and more.
Regional leaders, including myself, are using every available forum to bring urgent attention to this situation that places countries like ours at the greatest, immediate risk. But greedy capitalists in other so-called more developed countries are paying no heed as they continue to pump pollution and carbon into our atmosphere and oceans.
Just to illustrate the callous indifference that we are up against; on September 23, 2019 the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Hon Mia Amor Mottley, addressed the United Nation’s Secretary-General's Climate Action Summit. She was allotted only 180 seconds to speak – to highlight the catastrophic damage being caused to the region by continually rising temperatures. Needless to say, Prime Minister Mottley had to exceed the time limit to air the plight of the 20 percent of the community of United Nations who produce less than one percent of the greenhouse gases and who are at the greatest risk. Would you believe that the moderator tried on six occasions to cut off Prime Minister Mottley before she could complete her statement? That is how they treat us small countries.
These are some of the reasons why we in the Caribbean are now living on the edge and having to deal with the kind of trauma we faced when Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged us two weeks apart in 2017. And this is why, as we continue the work to recover, we have to become more resilient. And not just in terms of building infrastructure that can withstand strong hurricane winds, but resilient in terms of the diversity of our economy, the equipping of our people with the skills that will reduce or remove their vulnerability to shocks.
I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the team of persons who lead the efforts every year to ensure that our people are kept safe. This includes the staff at the DDM, GIS, the members of the protective services, the staff at the Ministry of Transportation, Works and Utilities, and the workers in the respective departments and agencies such as the Department of Public Works and the workers at BVIEC, and the Ministers and staff at the other supporting Ministries.
These are the person who supply us with updated information, maintain order, clear our roads and drains of debris and restore the electrical power to return us to normalcy when storms and other disasters strike. They leave the safety of their homes and their worried families to make sure that everyone else is ok, and that is something we can never be thankful enough for.
I must also commend the public for the way they have conducted themselves this hurricane season. We saw persons taking serious notice of advisories when they were posted. We saw residents stocking up on essentials and securing their property. Most importantly, they did not take unnecessary risk and they stayed safely indoors, allowing the essential services to focus on their respective jobs during the periods of heightened alert. And this includes cooperating with law enforcement during the curfew that was implemented during the passing of Hurricane Dorian.
Mr Speaker, with about six more weeks to go until the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season closes, I am urging all residents and visitors to maintain preparedness.
We are accustomed to the month of September being the most active period of the hurricane season, but due to the hazards of climate change it is wise to remain vigilant until we are certain that we are well in the clear.
Expect the unexpected.
Always, we must Be Ready and Stay Ready! We must remain PRAYED UP!
I thank you, Mr Speaker.