photo: Sharina Henriquez

PHILIPSBURG – While the local government assisted by the Netherlands, and the World Bank is still busy with the filing of reports, contracts, tenders, and other bureaucratic steps, a lot of blue tarps still flutter in the wind all over Sint Maarten.

By Sharina Henriquez

According to the government about 80% of the houses on the island were damaged by hurricane Irma. That’s more than ten thousand homes. On Thursday, the island will pause to remember the passing of hurricane Irma exactly one year ago. But the major repair effort has not yet begun.

It’s the non-profit organizations that have been making a lot of headway. The Red Cross is distributing vouchers for building materials, and a course in home repair for those who wish to do it themselves. These people could potentially start a new career as contractors, because there are not enough contractors on the island.

Church organizations are still very much involved in the repair effort. Organizations such as Seventh-Day Adventist Church, who has been sending out volunteers to fix houses.

Silvancio Pauletta works for the fire department but is also the director of the local Adra chapter. Adra is a humanitarian branch of the church, which is active in more than 120 countries. Immediately after hurricane Irma they provided emergency supplies: food rations for 900 families, and 170.000 dollars for the government’s food aid program for 2000 people.

‘Red-tape restricts the government’ – volunteer Alphaeus Tatem

Pauletta: “It was such a huge disaster. The government couldn’t handle it alone, especially due to its financial situation.” Church volunteer Alphaeus Tatem gives another reason why the government is so slow to react: “Red-tape restricts the government.”

Pauletta acknowledges that there are a lot of people who still need help. “There are a lot of houses that still have a tarp as a roof. That means that when it rained those houses got wet inside, and are now covered in mold. People were already stressed immediately after the hurricane. But that’s only getting worst, these are not normal circumstances to live under.”

The government doesn’t have any information on the number of houses that still have to be repaired. The Sint Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform says there are more than 9000 houses that still have to be repaired. According to them the Netherlands has repaired about 300 homes thus far, while other organizations have repaired about 400 homes.

Raymond Jessurun, a spokesperson for the platform has some criticism towards the Kingdom government: “They need to support us more so that our people can achieve the same standards of living as in the rest of the Kingdom.”