Repairs and Reconstruction
Showing remarkable resilience after Irma, Sint Maarten has made steady progress since the hurricane: the school year started with new energy, resources and materials in the classrooms; shops are open or putting the finishing touches on renovation projects, and hotels are getting ready for the upcoming tourism season.
Nevertheless, the scars of the biggest hurricane ever recorded in the country remain visible. Rooftops and houses are still being repaired and some families remain without permanent shelter while others are reduced to living in only one bedroom, as materials, workers and funds have been too scarce to rebuild their houses.
The National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP), approved by Parliament, estimates damages and losses related to hurricane Irma at US$ 1.38 billion and US$ 1.35 billion respectively (each at about 129 percent of GDP). It also underlines the continued urgency of meeting the needs of the people of Sint Maarten and to focus on community resilience, economic resilience and government resilience.
Lessons for Disaster Preparedness
Irma brought important lessons about how to prepare for a disaster. Clive Richardson, commander of the Fire Brigade, is trying to instill a greater sense of community and ‘hurricane-awareness’ through public messages. “Since the beginning of the hurricane season, we are trying to make clear that taking care of your own yard, the neighborhood and communities – like clearing of rubbish and loose materials which can become dangerous flying objects when a storm hits– will actually help in case of an emergency.”
Improving disaster preparedness is a key focus of a new Emergency Recovery Project which will repair public shelters, roofs and low-income houses, increase the resilience of the electricity utility and water system, and strengthen the emergency response capacities of the fire brigade and first responders.
“We will have a mobile phone app that will give real-time information about traffic, road conditions and other safety tips. Still, the app only works for those who have downloaded the program. So, in addition, we are developing an alert broadcast system over radio and mobile telephones, which will push out messages,” Richardson explains.
A New Hurricane Resilient Hospital
Hurricane Irma has also made new realities clear. Right before the devastation of Irma, the Sint Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) had completed designs and a financing package for a new, larger, and more modern hospital to serve the needs of the island’s growing population. However, it became clear after Irma that a higher level of specifications was needed.
“Before Irma, we considered roofs, walls and windows that can withstand 160 miles per hour windspeeds to be safe. We now upgraded the specifications, so the building will withstand windspeeds of 200 miles per hour. That means using different, more expensive materials and a rooftop entirely made of concrete,” says Erika Van der Horst, Facilities Manager of SMMC. The critical rehabilitation of the existing hospital and construction of a new and larger facility, more resilient to climate shocks was approved last month and will improve the scope and quality of health services at the hospital.
“With the financing we can fortify the existing building and double our generator capacity, to ensure the continuity of essential medical services in case of major power interruptions which are to be expected during and after hurricanes,” says Van der Horst.
The project will also upgrade the existing operating theatre complex, increase the dialysis capacity and expand in-patient care by creating additional patient rooms. “The expansion of services locally will reduce the medical referrals abroad. For a relatively small investment, we will see great returns in the short term” adds Van Der Horst.
About the Recovery, Recovery and Resilience Trust Fund:
The World Bank manages the US$ 580 million (Euro 470 million) Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience Trust Fund, established in April 2018 and financed by the Government of The Netherlands, to help Sint Maarten build back better and increase resilience following the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma. As of today, US$ 134.4 million was transferred by the Government of the Netherlands to the Trust Fund and a total of US$102.7 million was approved for three projects: An Emergency Recovery Project (US$55.2M), an Income Support and Training Project (US$22.5M), and a Hospital Resiliency and Preparedness Project (US$25M).