Attention shifts to Grenada’s longer-term needs

Published: 7 October 2004 0:00 CET

Solveig Olafsdottir in Grenada

Only one month after Hurricane Ivan devastated Grenada, the Red Cross is winding up its emergency relief operation on the battered island and turning its attention to the population’s longer-term needs.

Some 65,000 people, or two-thirds of the island’s entire population, have already received urgently needed aid such as food, shelter and hygiene items.

Ivan swept through Grenada on 7 September, leaving death and destruction in its wake, before moving on to pound Jamaica, Cuba, the Cayman Islands and finally the US states of Florida and Alabama.

Nothing prepared Grenadans for the devastation: In this region of hurricanes, the island had been spared for 50 years. Now it is a nation paralysed by shock, for every Grenadan was a victim in this disaster

Ninety percent of buildings and infrastructures were destroyed or damaged, leaving 50 per cent of the population homeless. The backbone of the country’s economy - tourism and agriculture - will take years to recover. The scene of destruction in Grenada is beyond belief.

One month after the disaster struck, most of the island remains without electricity. It will take up to a year to restore the power supply system to the entire country. All telecommunication systems were struck down, and telephone connections are still limited to the mobile network.

“I was in a state of panic because I really thought nothing would happen to us,” 16-year-old student Tinelle Joe, says as she describes the frightful day when Ivan laid waste to her village of Requin in St. David’s parish.

“We were inside the house, but when we found that the winds were really strong, we went below. It was a bad idea because the floor is made of board and when the roof came off, the water came soaking through and we were flooded, and we had to sit there the whole night until the next morning,” she recalls.

The roof of the house is completely gone, but after covering the house with the tarpaulin sheets from the Red Cross, she can stay there with her mother and brother and sister, without getting wet when it rains.

It was a blessing of sorts that the hurricane struck during the day. There is no doubt that the death toll would have exceeded the 39 who perished if people had been asleep and not able to run for safety.

Bernadette Joseph and her six children are lucky to be alive. Their house was completely destroyed, and they have to stay with neighbours until they receive assistance to rebuild their home.

“I run up, and a little while after the roof lifted and it went away, and a coconut tree came down and smashed up the house,” says Bernadette, happy to survive.

Assessment of the situation did not take long for the local, regional and international Red Cross team. Almost everyone was affected by the disaster, and all infrastructures were down. No businesses or services were functioning. People were in dire need of food, drinking water and tarpaulins to cover up their houses.

Relief goods from the Red Cross regional network and Caribbean Red Cross societies were in place just few days after the hurricane hit, and the operation started immediately, covering all six parishes of the country.

The Red Cross distributed food parcels, tarpaulins, hygiene material and bottled water to some 13,000 families, or 65,000 people, in less than three weeks.

“We had to distribute emergency goods such as food, tarpaulins and hygiene kits immediately. Homeless people just cannot wait, despite the logistical difficulties in carrying out a mass distribution to scattered areas. The complexity of the distribution could not stand in our way in reaching out to those in need as quickly as possible,” says Benoit Porte, the leader of the Federation’s Field Assessment and Coordination Team (FACT).

The relief operation took care of the most immediate needs of the population, but recovery will take years. The livelihood of every single Grenadan has been disrupted. The majority make a living out of tourism and agriculture, the twin pillars of the island’s economy, which have now been shattered.

This tiny country is the world’s second largest producer of nutmeg, an industry now in ruins. It takes more than seven years for nutmeg trees, when replanted, to grow and bear fruit.

“When you look around and you see the tall coconut trees which took years to reach there, are down, the nutmeg trees that took years to reach there are down, then you have to think in terms of nutmeg years and coconut years what rehabilitation means for us here,” explains Terry Charles, the director general of the Grenada Red Cross.

The hurricane stripped the island of its vegetation, left the trees barren and destroyed most infrastructures. After the emergency phase is over, the Red Cross will have an important role to play in the rehabilitation of the country, and its future preparedness for disaster. But the road to recovery is a long and winding one.