photo: Kim Hendriksen

PHILIPSBURG – The funds that the Netherlands made available after hurricane Irma four years ago to help with the rebuilding of Sint Maarten are still unavailable according to Ombudsman Gwendolien Mossel.

“The system set up by the World Bank doesn’t work. It’s too slow, too bureaucratic. How many assessments have to be completed before they act?”

Story continues after the video:

By Kim Hendriksen (in Dutch)

Two years ago, after unsettling stories started pouring in, the Ombudsman for Sint Maarten decided to start an investigation into the progress made with the rebuilding efforts. Together with her research team she made a video documenting the houses of several individuals on the island which were destroyed by the hurricane and who hadn’t received any help yet.

Now, two years later, a visit to two of the victims’ houses shows that they have still not been repaired. Additionally some individuals have passed away. Like a woman who was placed in a shelter together with her granddaughter after the Ombudsman found them living in an unlivable situation when she was filming the video two years ago.

After a short stint in the hospital she unfortunately passed away says Ombudsman Mossel. “Her only dream was to leave the shelter and to go home to live out the rest of her days. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to experience that.”

‘Her only dream was to leave the shelter and to go home’- Ombudsman Gwendolien Mossel

She continues: “Elderly individuals have to be at home. Two years in a temporary shelter is way too long. Waiting four years for emergency funds is also too long. And we have to consider ourselves lucky that we weren’t hit by another hurricane. The repercussions would be devastating.”

Half of funds distributed
After hurricane Irma destroyed ninety percent of the island on September 6th 2017, the Netherlands made 550 million euros available to rebuild the island. The funds were allocated to the repairs needed to buildings, houses, and infrastructure. The World Bank has been managing 470 million euros since 2018 and these funds remain mostly unavailable according to the Ombudsman. Only about half of the funds have been distributed.

The Ombudsman has tried several times during the past few years to bring the slow progress under the attention of the Dutch government. Also with the help of the Ombudsmen for the Netherlands and Curaçao. Without success. Mossel: “What has to happen before people finally get the help they need?”