Relief efforts in full swing in Grenada

Published: 21 September 2004 0:00 CET

Solveig Olafsdottir in Grenada

Relief efforts came into full force in Hurricane-hit Grenada on Saturday, when the first trucks filled with food and tarpaulins rolled out of the Red Cross warehouse in the capital St. George’s en route to some 10,000 desperate families who have now been without food, shelter and electricity for two weeks.

Little by little, Grenadans are grasping the severity of the situation. Hurricane Ivan destroyed all infrastructure, damaged houses and left some 60,000 people without a roof over their heads.

The countrywide relief operation started on a small scale immediately after the disaster, with the Grenada Red Cross Society (GRCS) distributing food, water and hygiene items received from sister Caribbean Red Cross societies.

At the same time, some 3,000 tarpaulins and 2,000 hygiene parcels sent by the International Federation’s Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU) from its emergency stock in Panama were distributed to shelters and households hosting homeless families.

The International Red Cross succeeded, through its regional network in Trinidad and Panama, in procuring and transporting a first batch of relief items for 10,000 families in just two days – in total some 12,000 tarpaulins, food for 2,500 families and hygiene parcels for 2,000.

This has enabled the GRCS relief team to start a mass distribution in all six parishes of the country. The Red Cross reached some 1,000 families on the first day of the general distributions and has been increasing its capacity to deliver the goods with each day that passes.

The emergency relief distribution is a one-off provision of food parcels, water, and tarpaulins for two-thirds of the country’s population and is expected to come to an end in 10 to 14 days time.

“Homeless people cannot wait. That is why we launched our operation with whatever material we had at the beginning,” says Benoit Porte, leader of the Federation’s Field Assessment and Coordination Team, which arrived in Grenada three days after the hurricane struck.

“In an emergency situation like this, where every single family in the country is affected, you have to reach out to the victims immediately with whatever you have to hand. The logistical burden of getting relief items in mass quantities should not add to people’s sufferings. Therefore we started distributing immediately, on a smaller scale, until we received the relief goods needed,” he explains.

As most shops are expected to open this coming week, and the water supply capacity will be back to normal in most parts of the island, there is no need for further emergency relief before the rehabilitation phase.

The food parcels will, however, help to ease the burden of people having to search for food and drinking water for their families until sufficient stock becomes available in the stores.

With many houses having lost their roofs, requests for tarpaulins and plastic sheeting have increased in the last days, as heavy rain showers further complicate people’s condition.

People’s belongings, which had just dried out after the torrential rains that followed Ivan’s tail, are now wet again. Tarpaulins are unavailable on the island, except for those supplied by aid organizations.

“I feel so happy that the Red Cross has come together to help those of us whose houses have fallen,” says Bernadette Jones, as the Grenada Red Cross team reaches her remote village of Requin in the parish of St. David.

The hurricane totally destroyed her house, and since then she and her six children have been staying with neighbours. And, until she got her Red Cross parcel, she had been unable to find food.

“Neighbours and good friends pass round and look for me, and they say ‘Girlie, we must drop something off for you’ and that is how we have been coping,” she explains. “I hope that with a little assistance we will be all right.”

Amidst all the destruction, it is hard to see how Grenada’s economy will ever be restored. The island, which relies mostly on agriculture and tourism, has been stripped of its vegetation and there is hardly a building left intact in the country.

Nonetheless, Grenadans are now pulling together to start that process. Companies, industries and businesses asked employees to come to their workplace on Monday to assess the situation and start a major clean-up. Grenada is on the long road to recovery.