Didier Trebucq, United Nations Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the Caribbean, briefed reporters on the response to the growing humanitarian crisis triggered after the eruption of the long-dormant La Soufrière volcano last week, displacing some 20,000 people , or about a fifth of the population. About 6,000 are considered vulnerable.
“We are about to launch the appeal for funding and the United Nations response plan to support the humanitarian response, but also the early recovery for the next six months,” he said, speaking via a video link from Barbados.
“It is a crisis that will certainly last more than six months in the sub-region, in Saint-Vincent and in other islands.”
The eruptions should continue
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, located in the southern Caribbean, consists of over 30 islands and cays, nine of which are inhabited.
At 4,000 feet high, La Soufrière towers over the largest island, Saint-Vincent. The volcano had been silent since 1979, but began to smoke and rumble in December, before erupting on Friday.
“We are facing regular eruptions of the volcano, including until last night,” Trebucq reported.
“We expect continued explosions and ash fall over the next few weeks in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, but also in neighboring islands such as Barbados, which has also been badly affected … as well as in Saint Lucia and Grenada. ”
Water a top priority
Some 4,000 displaced people currently live in 87 shelters, although many facilities lack basic services such as clean water. Others have found refuge with families and friends, while a handful fled to neighboring countries on fishing boats.
Mr Trebucq said at present that water is “the number one priority” as service has been interrupted in many areas and supplies are being transported from sisterly Caribbean countries. The United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the United Nations health agency WHO, are in the field to assess needs.
Cleaning is also important
“Priority number two is really about managing shelters,” he continued, stressing the need for baby cots and basic hygiene items. United Nations teams, including the World Food Program (PAM) are working with the Vincentian authorities on the digital registration of beneficiaries of cash vouchers.
“Finally, cleaning up the ashes is another important priority, in terms of environmental health but also cleaning up so that life can return to normal outside the red zone as quickly as possible,” added Mr. Trebucq. .
Similarly, United Nations agencies, in collaboration with the European Union, are also working to provide experts who will develop a plan for cleaning up volcanic ash in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and in the other affected islands.