WE need money.
This was the plea of Dr Kenny Anthony, the Prime Minister of St Lucia, as he looks for a way to help his country bounce back from extreme weather that hit the island on Christmas Eve.
Anthony said while he cannot put a price tag on the damage to his country, the bill may run into the “tens of millions”.
Six people have been confirmed dead, with hundreds more having to flee their homes.
“For us this is a major economic setback,” Anthony told journalists from Trinidad and Tobago who visited the island on Friday on board a Caribbean Airlines flight delivering supplies.
Anthony said St Lucia has an “exceedingly difficult and challenging fiscal situation” and has been battling a “deficit for quite a while”.
“Accessing funds for rehabilitation and recovery will be a mountain. In any event, historically our principal external friends do not really offer much assistance in these matters, they allow you to face international banks, Caribbean Development Bank and others, and so it is going to be quite a challenge to raise funds to deal with the issues,” Anthony said.
The heavy rains caused major infrastructural damage to the island.
“We have seven bridges down, three of those bridges are arterial bridges in the sense that they allow you to travel along the main highways in St Lucia and so we have a huge problems on our hands,” he said.
“And you have to recall that St Lucia suffered a debilitating blow with (Hurricane) Thomas. The result of this is that there are a number of bridges that were already compromised so they were very easy victims of the deluge of water, that came our way as a result of this trough,” Anthony said.
“We have Bailey bridges and, in one or two instances, bridges built out of steel, heavy bridges and, in one or two instances, those bridges simply became twisted metal when they were pulled away from where they were positioned—and that gives you some indication of the extent.”
He said bypass roads were constructed to help alleviate the problem and regularise traffic flow.
“St Lucia has a major fiscal problem at this moment because we have a huge fiscal deficit. The problem at the moment in the Caribbean is that institutions and banks are not lending these governments because they have become very frightened of the environment,” he said.
“Really to respond to the difficulties that I have to rebuild the bridges, I will need money, that is the bottom line.”
Some help is coming from Latin America’s integration bloc, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Anthony said.
ALBA has earmarked EC$7.2 million to repair bridges that were destroyed during Hurricane Thomas, Anthony said.
“Thomas occurred three years ago and we are still grappling with rehabilitation, trying to rebuild our infrastructure; and this comes along, adding to the problem.”
St Lucia has the technical expertise, but needs finance to address the infrastructural woes.
“I suspect it is going to run into tens of millions because you are talking about bridges, and a major bridge can cost anywhere from EC$7 million to EC$12 million, depending on where it is located; so with three major bridges down, you are talking easily about anywhere between EC$21 and EC$30 million,” he said.
Beside the bridges already destroyed, there is also further damage being anticipated, Anthony said.
“Engineers advised me that one of our major bridges linking two communities to get to here (Vieux Fort) that was actually shifted, and we need to construct a bypass road almost immediately and this has to be done this weekend to be able to cope with the stress of traffic,” he said.
“But organisations such as OAS (Organisation of American States) do not really reach out and provide any financial assistance. We have to turn to the CDB, has a short-term facility but that goes to CDEMA (Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency) not to the government, but we are now in the process of negotiations, a small loan of US$750,000 as part of the emergency fund.”