Jamaica: Non-governmental groups assisting the relief and recovery process

News and Press Release
Originally published

Just two Sundays ago, the powerful category four storm Hurricane Dean, lashed the island leaving four persons dead in its wake and several others homeless.

As people try desperately to get their lives back to normal following the onslaught of the hurricane, several Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have stepped in to assist in the recovery process.

One such group is United Way of Jamaica, which recently launched its Hurricane Dean Restoration Fund, to provide funding to assist recovery efforts in the agricultural sector and the restoration of early childhood education institutions, community centres, church halls, and other public buildings.

Board Chairman for United Way, Alvaro Casserly, speaking at the launch of the Fund at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel on Monday (Aug. 27), says the immediate goal is to raise $100 million. He notes that special emphasis will be placed on the agricultural sector, which suffered extensive damage and the overall goal is to restore the sector within the next four to six months.

"The objective that United Way has set is to help restore agricultural and farming production so that within four to six months, there will be adequate supplies of local produce to help to feed our people. It is a great challenge but with wide-based support, we believe it can be done and it will be done," he says.

The funds dedicated for agriculture will be channeled through the Jamaica Agricultural Society, the Jamaica 4-H Clubs, the Fishermen's Cooperatives and other agricultural groups.

United Way has already contributed $3 million towards the Restoration Fund with $6.9 million from the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) to carry out restoration efforts in Old Harbour Bay, where the JPS' largest power station is located. In addition, GraceKennedy Limited has also announced that it will contribute $10 million in kind, and Western Union has donated $3.5 million.

United Way is not the only charitable group that is assisting in the recovery process. Since the onslaught of Hurricane Dean, the Jamaica Red Cross has also been working to provide basic relief supplies to several affected communities.

President of the Jamaica Red Cross, Dr. Jaslin Salmon, says the organisation is working hard to distribute essential supplies such as food items, tarpaulins, roofing and building materials, bedding, hygiene and kitchen kits, and clothing to some 5,000 families, most affected by the hurricane.

These include single parents, children, the elderly, as well as the disabled in the parishes of Clarendon, St. Catherine, Manchester, St. Thomas, St. Elizabeth, and Kingston and St. Andrew.

He notes that the agency also plans to supply agricultural items to farmers. "We believe that farm supplies will also be necessary - grains and seeds that people can begin to replenish their livelihoods.

We also recognize that people have lost much of their fishing equipment as well, and that is one area that the Red Cross believes needs to be tackled," Dr. Salmon states.

In addition, the Jamaica Red Cross intends to set up a school feeding programme for basic school students in the affected areas.

Aside from the material loss, the Red Cross recognizes that the devastation caused by the hurricane may have left many persons "a little shaken up" and will be providing psychological support.

"We have recognized over the last few days that the stress level of many of the people, who were affected is very high, and so our psychological support team has been activated and is very involved throughout the communities," Dr. Salmon informs.

The Red Cross has branches in all parishes, and all are distributing relief supplies. Approximately 140 volunteers have been assisting with this distribution process. The organization's relief efforts are being buttressed by contributions from local and international organizations including the Chinese Red Cross, which has donated US$30,000.

The Salvation Army is another NGO that has been helping persons to recover from Hurricane Dean. The organization has started to distribute food to some 10,000 persons in seven parishes that were most affected by the hurricane.

Head of the Salvation Army, Major Ward Matthew, said that persons who were affected by Hurricane Katrina, which lashed New Orleans, United States in 2005, have donated 25 pallets of roofing material, construction materials, diapers and food items, among other things.

The NGO is also working with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide bedding for affected persons and has received offers of assistance from Australia as well as its headquarters in London.

Another NGO, Food for the Poor, has been instrumental in delivering relief supplies and Executive Director, Bradley Finzi-Smith, says that the distribution of essential items started before the hurricane hit the island.

"We distributed food and other supplies (to the churches) around the island as we normally do during the hurricane season. Since then, we have been collaborating with ODPEM (Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management) and the other agencies to get supplies out, again, through the churches.to the hardest hit parishes," he informs.

Mr. Smith notes that the agency has also been working in communities to fill prescriptions free of cost, distribute blankets, lanterns, mattresses, pillows, water boots, water purification tablets, tarpaulins and hygiene kits.

The organization has also been assigned full responsibility for the recovery of the Portland Cottage community in Clarendon. Initial assessment shows that approximately 15,000 people in the community were affected by Hurricane Dean.

"We went there on Friday (Aug. 24), with some 35 volunteers and staff, close to 100 people total, and we carried out relief down there for some 600 residents of Portland Cottage, and then we distributed some 1,500 packages to families in and around Portland Cottage to include basic food items and hygiene kits," Mr. Smith says.

He notes that besides Portland Cottage, the agency is also working in St. Catherine, St. Thomas, St. Elizabeth, Portland and Kingston and St. Andrew.

Hurricane Dean affected the island on Sunday, August 19, leaving four persons dead and several others homeless. The damage caused by the hurricane is estimated at $8 billion.