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Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: UN response targets humanitarian needs, early recovery and rehabilitation following volcanic eruption

20 Apr 2021

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Ash fall in a community within the red zone in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. © UN Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean/Bajanpro

For almost two weeks, La Soufrière’s frequent explosive eruptions have blanketed Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in ash, while pyroclastic flows consisting of dense, fast-moving pieces of solidified lava, ash and hot gas ran down adjacent valleys, scorching everything in their path.

With close to 20,000 people evacuated – approximately 18 per cent of the country’s population – humanitarian needs will likely continue to multiply with each day that passes. And just six weeks out, the fast-approaching hurricane season poses an additional threat to an already extremely vulnerable population.

Almost 13,000 people in shelters and temporarily staying with friends and family are in desperate need of safe water and food. Those whose homes were partially damaged or completely collapsed under the weight of heavy ash fall require immediate shelter and protection.

Still reeling from a recent surge in COVID-19, and the country’s worst dengue outbreak in recent history, Vincentians need access to appropriate hygiene and sanitation supplies, as well as personal protective equipment, to prevent a potential double emergency. COVID-19 cases have already been detected in emergency shelters.

The communities evacuated from the orange and red zones closest to the volcano are among the poorest and most vulnerable in the county. These high-risk communities are heavily dependent on agriculture and fisheries, livelihoods all but completely devastated by the eruption.

In the red zone, nearly all agriculture has been lost, while in the orange zone 75 per cent has been decimated, threatening to further deteriorate food insecurity amid the pandemic.

Residents evacuate the red zone in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. © UN Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean/Bajanpro

La Soufrière’s eruption will likely also have a severe impact on the country’s tourism-dependent economy, already brought to its knees by the pandemic. Vincentians who earn their livelihood through tourism will be displaced from their main source of income for months, if not years, following back-to-back blows to the sector from COVID-19 and the ongoing volcanic eruption.

Neighbouring Eastern Caribbean countries have also been affected by the eruption. Barbados has been engulfed in volcanic ash, forcing businesses already hard hit by COVID-19 to temporarily close, and delayed the reopening of schools on the island as a massive nationwide clean-up effort got under way.

The path to recovery for Vincentians will be long and arduous. Recovery, rehabilitation and livelihood interventions will be critical to help them get back on their feet.

Cleaning supplies and building materials are immediately needed to restore or rebuild homes, as are equipment, inputs and tools to help farmers and fisherfolk recover. Cash-based assistance is also needed to support livelihoods and protect the affected population from having to resort to negative coping mechanisms to get through this crisis.

To address the pressing humanitarian needs and kick-start recovery and rehabilitation efforts, the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office (RCO) for Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has launched a US$29.2 million funding appeal for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Eastern Caribbean.

To support immediate relief efforts, $1 million has been disbursed through the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to roll out a multisectoral response to urgent humanitarian needs.

Since heightened activity began at La Soufrière volcano in late December 2020, OCHA’s Humanitarian Advisory Team in Barbados has been supporting the UN Emergency Technical Team with contingency planning. As the emergency began to unfold, the OCHA Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC) convened partners of the Regional Group on Risks, Emergencies and Disasters for Latin America and the Caribbean (REDLAC) to begin coordinating regional efforts.

OCHA continues to provide coordination and information management support to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the lead agency for emergency response coordination in the region, as well as the UN Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the OECS, who heads up the UN response in support of the Government.

In order to avoid duplication and facilitate better coordination, OCHA ROLAC has offered to roll out the Who does What, Where, When and for Whom (345W) online system to report and provide visualizations of ongoing response activities and monitor the progress of the appeal, enabling synergies to be more easily identified and to ensure that the assistance provided is well-targeted and efficient.

At the request of the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, OCHA and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) are mobilizing a team of environmental experts to conduct assessments and implement a debris management plan, including the safe clean-up and disposal of ash, to mitigate environmental health risks and identify priority recovery and rehabilitation activities.

As the crisis in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and neighbouring Eastern Caribbean countries is expected to continue for months, a well-coordinated and predicable response from international and regional organizations is imperative to strengthen and complement the Government’s ongoing response.

Contact for the appeal: Carol A. Gaskin, Development Coordination Officer, Programme Communications and Advocacy, Resident Coordinator Office, UN Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean carol-ann.gaskin@un.org