Mr. Irwin LaRocque, CARICOM Secretary General; CARICOM Chair, Prime Minister of Grenada Dr. the Right Honourable Keith Michell; colleague Heads; members of the donor community, and Excellencies.
The convening of the United Nations Pledging Conference: Building a More Climate-Resilient Community is yet another historic moment for the Caribbean countries impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria to bring their experience in the context of the challenges of development in the face of the effects of climate change. We welcome the compassion and consideration of the international community for us who were impacted by hurricanes and to put on record the response of our regional integration entities: the OECS for its yeoman’s service and the ECCB, our sub-regional Central Bank.
St. Kitts and Nevis with a land mass of about 105 square miles and a population of under 50,000 persons was not spared the destructive effects of these two powerful category 5 storms. Indeed, we were impacted on both occasions. Although St. Kitts and Nevis did not experience the degree of devastation experienced by our neighbours, the impact was felt across most sectors of the economy, including road infrastructure, education, health, national security, housing, and agriculture.
Our road infrastructure, which connects the western end of the island to the capital of Basseterre, was severely damaged due to storm surge, with an estimated recovery cost of over XCD20 million. The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis took the strategic decision to redirect resources to facilitate a temporary solution. However a re-design of the road is being pursued to provide a more resilient and long-term solution to this issue. In the education sector, one of our main high schools, which serves about 900 students, was also damaged. This required immediate action to ensure the resumption of classes. This school is now accommodating several persons displaced from neighbouring islands – St. Maarten, Anguilla and Dominica, as is our Early Childhood Centres and other Secondary Schools, free of cost. These students have been provided with social assistance, where needed, similar to that given to residents. The agriculture sector, which is vital to ensuring food security and employment, was severely impacted with the loss of crops, livestock, shade houses and poultry. Damage to the poultry sector was significant, as we lost our ability to provide local fresh eggs, an area in which we had for years achieved self-sufficiency. The Joseph N. France General Hospital, which is the main hospital, suffered roof damage, which resulted in the relocation of patients and the closure of the Private Ward. Two police stations that serve rural communities were damaged to the extent that personnel had to be relocated. In our main touristic area, damage to property led to displacement of our police in the Frigate Bay area. Despite the limited resources, Government has given support to farmers in the establishment of a Farmers Recovery Support Fund, which provides assistance to farmers for inputs and implements for land preparation. Provisions have also been made for a Hurricane Relief Duty-Free Concessions Program to assist homeowners who experienced damage to their residences during the hurricanes.
High Income vs Vulnerability Index
St. Kitts and Nevis like Antigua and Barbuda, having been classified as a high-income country, is not eligible for concessional funding. Therefore, we have been relying on the use of our own resources to bring the country to a level of satisfactory recovery. However, there is much more to be done, and as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) the demands on our limited resources are substantial and create fiscal pressures as we strive to continue the implementation of our development agenda.
In the latter half of the 1990s, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis experienced several successive hurricanes. However, due to lack of access to concessionary funding and policy failures, we had to incur debt on commercial terms, which resulted in St. Kitts and Nevis being classified as the most indebted country in the world. Through the significant sacrifice of our people and the implementation of an IMF austerity home-grown program, we are reducing our debt to a more manageable level.
We would not wish to return to those dark and difficult days. The recent effects of the hurricanes underscore the importance of revisiting the GDP per capita criterion for the graduation of countries, as it does not fully take into consideration their vulnerability. Therefore, I advocate support from the donor community in the use of a Vulnerability Index that will capture the unique features of our Small Island Developing States. I use this opportunity to thank the Commonwealth for its leadership in this area. Further, de-risking and loss of corresponding banking relationships are two issues that present a threat to our recovery efforts at a time when we need international partnerships the most. The international donor community must do more to prevent the undermining of our fragile economies by the so called policies of de-risking and loss of correspondent relationships at this challenging time of recovery.
We have had the experience in the past where funds have been pledged, but the procedures to facilitate disbursement have been cumbersome and led to long delays in accessing vital resources. Therefore, at this juncture as donors commit themselves to pledging resources for the recovery effort in the Caribbean, we emphasize that there is a need to establish fast-track mechanisms to ensure the funds are disbursed in a timely but transparent manner, to make a real impact on the dire circumstances that confront many of our people in the region.
Going forward, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis intends to further improve its Building Codes and to incorporate climate resilient measures to ensure more resilient infrastructure in the face of stronger storms. With the assistance of the European Union, we are advancing the development of a National Housing Policy, a Land Use Policy and a Disaster Vulnerability Assessment for the Health, Education and Public Infrastructure Sectors, and we are advancing the continued development of renewable energy including geothermal. We look forward to positive outcomes from this important gathering.
Again, we thank the CARICOM Secretariat, the UN, the donor community including the EU and all who helped to make this convocation happen and we thank the donor community for their compassion and generosity. St. Kitts and Nevis stands in solidarity with all countries impacted by hurricanes. We are a proud and resilient people. We have been helping our neighbours and ourselves, but the task of rebuilding in a timely way is beyond the resources of St. Kitts and Nevis. We appreciate the support of the donors.
May it please you.