photo: Sharina Henriquez

PHILIPSBURG – “We are much better prepared now if a hurricane passes over the island compared to last year when Irma passed”, says Joost Ruigrok from Red Cross Sint Maarten.

By Tim van Dijk (Dutch, and English spoken)

Ruigrok explains that disaster relief is no longer being provided, and that the organization is not distributing food-vouchers anymore. The program which helped 4000 people ended at the start of September.

When asked whether or not those families will make it without the help, Ruigrok says: “The idea isn’t to make them dependent on us. We want people to be self-sufficient.”

That’s why the programs offered by the Red Cross are now focused on sustainable aid. One such aid program is the one where families can get building-material coupons. The agreement with the government is that the aid organization will help in nine neighborhoods.

Red Cross volunteers are going into the neighborhoods to check and see the progress being made on the houses, and whether or not they will be better suited to deal with hurricanes in the future. They will also be inviting the inhabitants to workshops on how to build better homes. The first neighborhood the Red Cross will be tackling is the hard-hit Dutch Quarter.

Funds collected
With the funds collected by the Red Cross, they are able to help the victims of Irma for a period of three years, one of which has already elapsed.

An amount of 19 million euros was collected in the Netherlands, and those funds are now being utilized for the sustainable aid programs.

On Curaçao the Red Cross collected just a bit more than 550 thousand euros. Those funds have not been spent yet. “Those funds are meant for Sint Maarten, Saba, and Statia, and are allocated for long-term plans”, says Ruigrok. “A delegation from Curaçao will be arriving this month to discuss what the inhabitants’ needs are, and how to best spend the funds.”

Arubans donated a total of 110 thousand euros, and those funds were spent on flying in food-aid packages, three pick-ups, and 40 volunteers who came to the island several times, even before the hurricane passed.

On Bonaire 60 thousand euros were collected, most of which was used for emergency-aid such as potable water, food-aid, and tarps.

Unused ambulances
The situation on Statia is improving according to Ruigrok. The Red Cross was unable to function there due to a lack of volunteers, but a new team has been put in place now. The headquarters were also a wreck up until a few months ago. Notably they did have three ambulances, and a military vehicle sitting in the yard collecting dust. According to insiders, these vehicles are too big to be used on the narrow streets.

“They are no longer in use because the island is so small, the hospital ambulance can reach every single destination on the island within minutes”, Ruigrok assures us. That’s why the decision was made last week to sell the ambulances.