As Scale of Irma Damage Overwhelms, Calls Grow for Caribbean 'Marshall Plan'

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As Scale of Irma Damage Overwhelms, Calls Grow for Caribbean 'Marshall Plan'

International aid organizations, and one British billionaire, are calling on wealthy nations to contribute more to the rebuilding process

A man walks among the destruction left by Hurricane Irma at the Phillipsburg Town Beach on September 11, 2017 in Philipsburg, St. Maarten.

A man walks among the destruction left by Hurricane Irma at the Phillipsburg Town Beach on September 11, 2017 in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. (Photo: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)

As the Caribbean begins a "grim" and arduous recovery process after Hurricane Irma tore through the region—leaving many dead and entire islands nearly uninhabitable—aid organizations, and even one British billionaire, are ramping up calls for the world's wealthy nations to contribute to the rebuilding process.

"This story is about the tens of thousands of people who have lost their homes and their livelihoods."
—Richard Branson
In a blog post on Sunday, Richard Branson—who weathered Irma's wrath by holing up a wine cellar on his private Caribbean island—called for a "Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan" for the region, referencing the U.S.-led initiative to assist Europe in recovery efforts following the Second World War.

"This story is about the tens of thousands of people who have lost their homes and their livelihoods," Branson wrote. "We have spent the past two days visiting team members who live on Virgin Gorda and as many people as possible, distributing aid, water and supplies. We have seen first-hand just how ferocious and unforgiving this storm was."

Branson goes on to write that while he has "already seen some wonderful acts of human kindness over the last few days," full recovery will not be possible without massive support from the world's wealthy countries—and from the entire international community.

The British Virgin Islands (BVI), Branson notes, requires "an enormous amount of help to recover from the widespread devastation."

Branson concluded:

The U.K. government will have a massive role to play in the recovery of its territories affected by Irma—both through short-term aid and long-term infrastructure spending. The region needs a "Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan" for the BVI and other territories that will aid in recovery, sustainable reconstruction, and long-term revitalization of the local economy. This will have to include building resilience against what is likely to be a higher intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, as the effects of climate change continue to grow.

Joining Branson in the call for an ambitious international recovery plan for the Caribbean is the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which said Tuesday that the world's governments cannot merely rely on the U.K., France, and the Netherlands to pick up the costs.

"People are concerned, there is a general sense that [the British Virgin Islands] is British government territory and therefore the British will handle it," Khin-Sandi Lwin, who is leading UNICEF's Caribbean efforts, told The Guardian. "So we haven't been able to raise the funds from other governments at the moment. This is where I do think we need a much bigger international response to the funding that's needed."

"They're all small islands but the devastation is quite extensive."
—Khin-Sandi Lwin, UNICEF

As the Guardian's Helen Davidson reports, both the U.K. and France have "launched relief efforts, including thousands of troops or police." 

But Lwin said that will not be enough, given the extent of the damage.

"We're talking 28-30,000 population—they're all small islands but the devastation is quite extensive," Lwin concluded. "That means people are without shelter, there's no water in Turks and Caicos. Water supplies are contaminated and there was no groundwater to start with. We need to get water and food and shelter as a first response."

The growing calls for more support from the international community in the efforts to rebuild after Irma come as the U.S. and the U.K. are under fire for not paying enough attention to territories ravaged by the storm.

"We in the territories feel like third-class citizens because I'd rather wager that if there were something coming like that, of the same magnitude, to the mainland U.K., I suspect that there would be far more attention being paid," said Josephine Connor, a former adviser to the chief minister of Anguilla, one of Britain's 14 overseas territories.

Writing for The Nation on Monday, John Nichols slammed American media outlets for excluding Puerto Rico and other U.S. overseas territories harmed by Irma from their definition of the United States, and highlighted the fact that citizens of these territories have virtually zero representation in government.

"Anyone who respects the basic premises of democracy will recognize that this electoral imbalance is atrocious," Nichols concluded, "and potentially devastating for racially and ethnically diverse parts of the United States that need a voice and a vote when it comes to federal disaster relief and general budgeting."

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