I am pleased to provide this update on the current status of our Territory, following the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma almost nine weeks ago.
Since the hurricane, my Government and people of this Territory, including public and private sector agencies, generously supported by local and international friends, supporters, agencies and partners have worked steadfastly to restore the quality of life we have worked so hard over the past decades to create. The support has been overwhelming and for that we are very grateful.
Today, I am pleased to report that our collective efforts towards recovery are beginning to pay off, and in a resilient and positive way.
Let me share the reason for my optimism. You are aware that we have focused our recovery in the short term by looking at some key sectors: These areas are infrastructure and utilities, the business and the economy, human and social services (health and education), governance and the environment.
And we have made measurable progress in all these areas.
Let’s begin with our infrastructure and utilities. The team at the BVI Electricity Corporation and their many partners from overseas have been moving swiftly. The corporation now has 11 megawatts of power distributed on a consistent basis. This means we are now consistently distributing 1/3 of what we used to distribute before Irma. That is good news!
What does this mean in practice? I am told that we now have an estimated 15% to 20% of customers on Tortola with power, 50% on Virgin Gorda and 80% on Anegada. There is no electricity yet to Jost Van Dyke, but the team is working diligently to allow the West End feeder to send power to Jost Van Dyke.
We have made good progress with water also. Large sections of East End and Road Town zones have running water. West End will have water once the lift station at Capoon’s Bay has power, and we hope to achieve this within the next two weeks. Although we are steadily bringing many of our systems up and distribution networks are expanding, you will appreciate there will be intermittent scheduled service until we are fully restored. We will continue to have truck delivery in some areas as well.
On Virgin Gorda, the Handsome Bay plant is working and producing water which is being distributed to most areas of the Valley, including all the way to the Baths. We are working to restore the North Sound plant which was destroyed. In Anegada, the reservoirs are being filled nightly. On Jost Van Dyke, the reservoir was destroyed but water is being pumped to a temporary reservoir and further work is being done to provide a similar solution for distribution in elevated areas.
I know that driving many of the roads is uncomfortable. This is why we made rehabilitation of the roads one of our utmost priorities. We made good progress on clearing the roads throughout the Territory, and now we are turning our attention to providing temporary repairs to the most damaged sections of roads throughout the Territory to make them safe and motorable.
In the longer term, we have started to survey and design roads and revetments for some of the areas that were significantly damaged, for example Capoon’s Bay to Cane Garden Bay road and revetment.
Our port facilities are also being rehabilitated. The Cargo Port at Port Purcell is functional. We are drawing up plans to restore the Road Town ports facilities. In the meantime, you are aware that we are currently using the Cruise Pier dock for clearance. Temporary facilities have been established for West End. In Virgin Gorda, the port facilities are also functional.
We are pleased with the commitment and efforts of our telecomm operators who continue to work diligently to bring their service to pre-Irma levels. Each of them has significant portions of their networks operational.
Let’s now turn our attention to businesses and the economy. We have designed four special programmes to assist Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). We will support them with power generation, grants of up to $10,000 Loan (Guarantees) up to $25,000 and a Customer Service and Business Hub to temporarily conduct some of their business affairs. So far, 633 businesses have registered for generators and small loans. We hope to operationalise all of these programmes in the coming weeks.
On the tourism side, as you know we have also prioritised this sector. Our goal is to exceed what we offered prior to Irma. Naturally, the return of this sector will take some time, but we are optimistic and ambitious and so too are our partners. While many of the marquis accommodations are currently closed, there are several others that continue to provide service. Very importantly, our yachting sector is excited to be welcoming visitors as of 1st November. Charter companies have already signaled sailing for the Winter 2017/2018 season – many of which are bringing new yachts to the BVI for the first time. Like other areas we are supporting this industry to ensure it redevelops quickly.
Now looking at the human and social services areas. Our high school has been reopened for a few weeks now and we are pushing hard to ensure that our primary schools are opened within the next week or so. The Minister of Education would have provided a comprehensive update on where we are with schools.
We have submitted a Prison recovery plan to National Security Council to rehabilitate our prison system.
Our Social and Health sector has also been a key focus. We have partnered with a number of organisations to support the social sectors, including PAHO, Convoy of Hope, UNICEF, Rubicon, ADRA and Unite BVI to name a few. They have helped in number of areas including relief, food aid, shelters, medical support, building assessments, vector control, housing repair, medical infrastructure repair. We thank all of you for your support.
There are some special programmes that our partners are engaged including the Housing Programme and subsistence support programme. My Government and I are very keen to see everyone back in their homes and we will therefore shortly be considering a comprehensive housing policy to help address all our housing needs.
We have a strong waste management programme and here I want to thank the local contractors for their continued commitment. We also have very good support from external partners such as DFID in this regard.
We have worked hard to ensure that the BVI is safe. We have developed a policing response in the Territory to provide security, reassurance and law and order, and this has been enabled through the support of the UK, plus the Bermudan and Cayman Islands Governments, assisting the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force.
We have total of 325 police officers and we are able to develop a strong and effective security regime across the Territory. Not only are we enforcing the curfew which is designed to keep people safe, but also to target criminals who are operating during the hours of darkness when people are most vulnerable.
But we are also able to increase their visible presence during the day time in the key commercial areas, again providing security and assurance to businesses that we are back on our feet, that law and order is restored and policing is functioning normally.
While plans are afoot to get courts restored, it has not prevented the police from carrying out arrests and working with the DPP to agree charges.
We continue to discuss with the UK Government and Overseas Territories with ongoing assistance for the future, which will include the provision of specialist skills absent from the force at present, particularly training support and provision of equipment to ensure that the force doesn’t become what it was, but becomes a force that is built to what is needed for the Territory in the future as it grows.
We have developed a plan and prioritised the repairs to all our courts to ensure proper functioning of our justice system.
A significant amount of work continues to be carried out in the terrestrial and marine environments. The crews have been hard at work cleaning beaches and coastlines. We will have particular focus also on our tourism sites.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour has also presented plans to provide various support to our farmers and fishermen. You will hear more about this in the near future.
As you can see from the above updates, we have made some good progress and have much more to do. With God’s blessings and each of your support we will continue to move forward steadfastly.
And so I am pleased to say at this time, the BVI IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS!