Emergency aid

| 12/11/2008

There is a fundamental problem with the way that emergency aid is being distributed by government on Cayman Brac: it is not getting to many of the most vulnerable people.

Everyone on the Brac needs help – we all want generators or ice if that’s not possible, batteries, water, staples, and too many homes need tarpaulin and building supplies – and there seems to be a fair amount of these items reaching the island. There are homes in all parts of the island that are significantly damaged or totally demolished, but the areas where the signs of Hurricane Paloma are most apparent are in the eastern districts.

Watering Place, the Creek and Spot Bay are devastated and the people there are hurting. Many are old and frail – some are staying at the Aston Rutty Centre, but many are roughing it out in their homes. Landlines are down and mobile coverage is only now beginning to be restored, though many of the elderly don’t have cell phones anyway. The distribution centre at the Aston Rutty Centre is too far away – not everyone knows about it and some can’t get there even if they did – and the centre at the airport may as well be on the moon. A number of cars in this area particularly are not usable post-Paloma, and people are just too busy drying clothes, cleaning up their houses, picking out salvagable possessions from the rubble, and trying to rebuild their lives.

No one I spoke to had heard of the hurricane relief command centre at the airport and had not seen anyone from there. On Tuesday at Watering Place – Day 4 after the storm – I asked everyone what government officials they had seen. The answer was the same – Julie ( MLA Julianna O’Connor Connolly), who has been organising private help from Grand Cayman, and Lyndon Martin (still regarded as "government" in Watering Place despite losing the last election), who has been working with a team of local volunteers to put up tarpaulin on leeking roofs. Many residents also said that Red Cross volunteers had been round to help.

The command centre is supposed to sending out teams to see who is particularly vulnerable and who needs immediate help. The answer is simple and it doesn’t take a team 5 days to figure it out: everyone east of The Bight. The government officials in charge need to load up trucks with the emergency supplies and take them to the areas that need them most – knock on doors if necessary – and distribute the water, ice and hygene supplies – and they need to do it today.

At the distribution centres, there are reports of people grabbing too much or sending several family members to get double supplies. The Leader of Government Business’s assertion that this is a caring community and that people would only take what they need is a lovely thought and I salute his optimism. However, human nature being what it is, these things will happen.

There will be plenty of time afterwards to figure out what could have been done better – I know that everyone is working as hard as they can – but the immediate priorty of the government should be to get supplies where they are needed and that means taking it to the people, not relying on a free-for-all at the two distribution centres.

Having said that, many things in the aftermath of the storm appear to be progressing impressively well, and there is a long list of heros. Here are just a few: the shelter wardens who worked for days on end without a break. Cayman Brac Power and Light crews, with CUC support, are working flat out and power is beginning to return to some areas. I see crews on the road at first light and still out well after dark. LIME (Cable and Wireless) staff also are out there restoring cell phone coverage, and the internet centres (I am currently working at the one in Stake Bay) are a godsend.

The team from the Planning Department who came to check out my house yesterday was a model in efficiency. And the three Red Cross members I met up at Spot Bay (part of that team of volunteers whose cars were broken into on Grand Cayman) are stars in anybody’s book. I will be writing about them in time.

The Brac will survive, but the government needs to make sure that the most vulnerable do too. Take the help to them. They need it now.

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  1. Twyla M Vargas says:

    I do hope the Immigration Department do not allow persons not living on the Brac to enter at this time.  Only those persons who have been approved to assist from the Government and private sectors.

    This is a fragile situation, and we do not want to happen on Cayman Brac what took place on Grand Cayman during IVAN.  Where persons were looting, stealing from people houses, breaking shops and every manner of evil that could be done, and packing up everything in sight and shipping it away.

    We do not want that taking place.  I do hope the Cayman Brac  People are helped unconditionally.  They are passive good people, and I do not like to hear that they are being oppressed by anyone.

    God Bless You Cayman Brac.  I will quote the words of "Leader of the Opposition, The Hon> McKeva Bush, to the people of Cayman after Hurricane Ivan "  Cayman you will be bigger and Better"   It happened just like he said.  Now to the people of Cayman Brac.  Stand Tall, YOU WILL BE BIGGER AND BETTER.
















  2. Virginia Castillo says:

    In the midst of such devastation as the Brac is experiencing in the aftermath of Hurricane Paloma, it is indeed ironic that a resident would risk discouraging the much needed aid from Grand Cayman and around the world by leveling criticism towards those who are trying to provide assistance – how irresponsible!