Caribbean politicians attending last week’s Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference expressed surprise that the Cayman Islands had been able to recover so quickly from Hurricane Ivan without foreign financial assistance.
Their comments followed a presentation on disaster preparedness and recovery by Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden.
Mr. Bodden explained that Hurricane Ivan cost the Cayman Islands 138 per cent of its annual GDP – the equivalent of US$90,000 per resident.
Mr. Bodden said an EU Recovery Fund Grant of $4.17 million – expected to be paid within weeks – will be the first financial assistance the country has received from abroad.
A surprised MP from the Bahamas, Mrs. Verna Grant, asked Mr. Wright to repeat his statement.
‘Can you explain that please … Are you saying no one has contributed?’
Mr. Bodden confirmed that no external financial aid had been received.
Mrs. Grant said the Bahamas received assistance from around the world after recent hurricane experiences. She said she was disheartened to hear the Cayman Islands had not.
‘Its awful when you think that we are all here together but then we are not really helping one another in a disaster such as this,’ she said.
Hurricane Ivan loomed large throughout the debate, with politicians in attendance from Grenada and Jamaica, as well as the host country.
Barbara Carby, director of Hazard Management Cayman Islands said the problem the Cayman Islands has is that it is perceived as a rich country.
‘I think that is one of the reasons there wasn’t a lot of interest in providing financial assistance post Hurricane Ivan.’
Turks and Caicos MP R. Donahue Gardiner said he was impressed with Cayman Islands’ recovery, based on what he had seen the past several days.
Mr. Gardiner asked whether the Cayman Islands had done enough to communicate to the world the level of destruction wrought by Ivan.
‘Was the lack of response from the region and other places due to the fact that many people did not know the magnitude of the disaster?’
West Bay MLA Cline Glidden said, ‘I don’t think we can honestly say … that if something happens in the region, we don’t know its extent. When we hear that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane has made a direct hit, I think we all know what to expect.
‘Maybe we didn’t do a good enough job of telling the world but at that stage, we were more concerned with trying to recover.’
Mr. Bodden said more could have been done to communicate Cayman’s plight.
‘Immediately after the hurricane, there has to be something in place where the word really gets out and shows the true picture of what is going on and I think that was lacking and it certainly affected us to a certain extent,’ he said.
Grenada Honorary Secretary Adrian Hayes said it is important to remember that Grenada was first hit, and that much of the region’s aid resources had been devoted to Grenada by the time Ivan hit the Cayman Islands.
Bermuda MP Walter Lister said news of the destruction suffered by the Cayman Islands was easily accessible. ‘I received, via the internet, many pictures of Cayman shortly afterwards.’
Bahamas MP Shane Gibson said he knew exactly what was happening in Cayman initially.
‘But news stopped coming after a while and what they said was that residents in Cayman didn’t want news to get out because they didn’t want it to have a negative impact on their industries; financial services and tourism.
‘I find it very difficult to believe that anybody could not know what was happening in Cayman,’ he said.
Speaking after the session, Mr. Glidden said it had been suggested plenty of times before that Government officials had sought to mask the size of the hit the Cayman Islands suffered.
‘Today you have heard from members from around the region and they pretty much acknowledge that they knew (what was happening) almost minute by minute. I think they put an end to that suggestion today by saying they knew what was going on in Cayman.
‘Maybe that’s a convenient reason for people that want to give a reason for not giving assistance, by saying that,’ he said.
Mr. Glidden said the relative wealth of these islands made other countries reluctant to help.
‘It’s much easier to justify helping Bosnia, or helping any of the African territories where poverty is seen as being significant, even before a disaster, when you compare that to Cayman.’
Mr. Glidden said everyone at the conference was impressed with Cayman’s recovery. ‘I think that is a testament to the Government of the time and the leaders.’
But he worries the Cayman Islands will be a victim of its own success if another major disaster strikes.
‘Looking back, they are going to say, ‘you had a disaster that created $3 billion of damage, that cost $90,000 per resident, and you were able to recover so successfully without any international aid’. What happens next time that we do have a disaster?
‘Will people remember that and say, ‘look, they are able to recover quite quickly on their own’?’
Mr. Glidden praised the way the former UDP Government had managed its finances before and in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan.
‘The last Government; even when Hurricane Ivan hit, even without international assistance, there was enough money in the bank to keep the country going, to keep the Government working.
‘Everyone got their salaries, there was enough money to do the clean ups, and to get the recovery process completed as quickly as it was. Yes, we didn’t fix every single home, but in general, the country recovered.
‘Whether that situation is going to exist the next time we face a disaster or not, I don’t know.
‘If we didn’t have that money and if we had been depending on international aid wholly and solely, obviously, we would have been in a much worse position.’