Gonsalves satisfied relief efforts going smoothly
KINGSTOWN – Prime Minister of St Vincent & the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, said he was sharpening the organisational arrangements and apparatus as the country moved into a different phase of the relief effort following the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano.
Gonsalves said he got reassurance from private sector companies during a National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) meeting that there was no food shortage in the island, though the agriculture sector had taken a significant hit.
“I want to address some life and living issues – we had some supermarket operators there, and they assured me that currently and [with] what food they have coming in, there is enough food to feed the country,” he said during a talk show on NBC Radio.
“In addition to the food we are getting by donation, I wanted to make sure that the importers that we had enough…and in the case of one supermarket, which has some shipments going to St Lucia, it can be diverted here, and we just accept the (required) documentation.”
Gonsalves said he gave an instruction that it be done to increase the food supply in the island and the importers will also be increasing the frequency of their orders to take into account the loss of local agriculture food supply.
He said a number of local bakeries were complaining of being unable to produce bread because of a lack of water.
But the PM said he expected the situation to ease, after general manager of the Central Water & Sewage Authority, Garth Saunders announced that they had restored about 55 to 60 percent of supply to the island.
Gonsalves urged family and friends of residents to be more strategic in the way they were sending relief supplies into the island.
“A number of people are calling and sending messages to me and other members of the government from overseas and they want to send a few packets of this and a few packets of that,” he said.
“I begging them, please do not send these one or two little packages. You are (overseas), get yourself organised with other people, so that you can have a good container coming and we will have the port clear them in a particular manner.”
He said: “We will reduce any bureaucracy and charges and the like because in a disaster one of the main areas that you do not want to be clogged up unnecessarily with too m any little things is the port.
“Since we have a lot of food in the country through the supermarkets, it is important that if you are sending, it will be more helpful, in my humble suggestion, to send money for your family that they can buy food in disaster management. We have to be very (strategic).”
Gonsalves said he was generally satisfied with the disaster management response of a number of government agencies and hoped they kept up the good work through the crisis.
“We have done pretty well,” he said. “We have gotten people out (of harm’s way) by and large, but we have a few people remaining in the (danger) zone, and nobody has died, and nobody is injured. We have to try to keep that record.
“We have the (emergency) shelters up and running. Some of the shelters are much better managed than others, but each of them has dedicated, hardworking people.
“Some of the shelters are better resourced than others, but we are ensuring that they are all equally resourced at a level than any objective person can say is reasonable in the circumstances.”
Gonsalves said around 1 500 more mattresses or cots were needed to be placed in the emergency shelters to make life more comfortable for evacuees from the danger zone around the volcano.
He said he wanted some of the cots to go to evacuees that were staying with family or friends, rather than in the emergency shelters, and urged these people to get in touch with NEMO to indicate their need.
Gonsalves said the security situation in the island will gain a boost from the arrival of 50 soldiers from Trinidad & Tobago.
“We do not have a security problem and the Commissioner of Police said everything has been calm,” he said. “We are getting help from the Regional Security System.
“I do not want to wait until any security issues arises. I want to deal with it up front and it is possible that some malevolent persons may seek to use our problems for their own selfish purposes from the criminal standpoint.”
Gonsalves said a number of things were also being done on the diplomatic front to assist the island, including tangible support from the American, British and Canadian governments, as well as the island’s embassies and consulates, where relief funds have been established. (AR)