The British Virgin Islands have been absolutely devastated in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Almost all houses have been destroyed, there is no food, no water and no electricity. Right now, it's crucial that people, especially children, stuck in the BVI get off the islands for the sake of health, safety, and security. Sadly, the location is currently unlivable.
I can't stress enough that it is not an enormously wealthy place (as has been callously cited as an excuse by some media outlets to care less about the suffering that residents have endured). There are about six notable billionaires with properties on the islands, but most of the wealthy don't even inhabit the BVI from June to November as it is the hurricane season. Recall, this is a territory where the minimum wage was only recently raised from $4/hr. The vast majority of the full-time residents are working-class, and many have lost everything. The hurricane has reduced many to a current state of poverty, and in my view, it is both irresponsible and inhumane to diminish the devastation they've suffered.
It's been frustrating to see the delay in reaction time from the UK Government to help the BVI. The UK Government did not have a clear plan in place nor did they understand the complexity of operations involved in a natural disaster situation. Relief effort protocol should have been organized and tested in advance, especially given the known magnitude of Hurricane Irma. We're happy to see that the UK is now contributing £32million (US$43million) in aid with a further £25million (US$34million) promised for all islands affected, but the UK Government itself did not mobilize as quickly as it should have and the immediate needs of those stranded in the BVI and other British Overseas Territories were grievously unmet.
A group of us who either evacuated before the storm hit, or who have been long term residents out of the country, knew that we needed to do something on Tuesday before the storm struck to help these people. We stepped in where the UK government should have. Although formulated large-scale relief efforts in coming days and weeks will provide a strategic and practical way to clear up damage and revive the community, something had to happen in the interim for those without a roof over their heads.
As an entrepreneur and part-time BVI resident, I was uniquely positioned to understand the current needs of the BVI and its people, and felt particularly compelled to help. Since the life changing storm, I've focused on putting together a BVI Relief Group with the purpose of organizing and delivering vital supplies, coordinating evacuations and getting urgent medical aid to the BVI where it's needed most. As a group, we had to do what the UK Government should have done from the very start. That being said, I am one of many people and I am not taking any credit for the massive response. We started as five people and we are now more than 100 strong. Our efforts are covered on the BVI Abroad Hurricane Irma group on Facebook.
Hurricane Irma brought with it a series of complications and not many people realize the complexity of accessing the BVI due to the nature of its landscape and geographical location. There are 60 individual islands there, 12 of which are inhabited and only accessible by boat. Delivering supplies to the BVI, even in the most ideal conditions, can take up to 4 days. Supplies are delivered by ships that travel back and forth from a central hub in Miami, Florida to the BVI. As fate would have it, both locations were in the path of Hurricane Irma. The storm made the delivery process even more difficult.
Currently, the supplies that have reached the BVI are being sent to Road Town where shelters have been set up with food and water. Although this is a great start, it does no good for the people who are trapped on different islands around the BVI. The biggest challenge we've been facing is determining how we can distribute the supplies from Road Town to surrounding islands when 90% of the boats in the BVI were decimated by the hurricane. We've been able to work around this issue with an enormous amount of help from Puerto Rico. We've co-ordinated their available boats alongside other necessary resources to make trips around the BVI to further distribute supplies. They have been a massive help and we are all extremely grateful for their generosity.
My severe disappointment in the UK Government's response to this disaster was only overcome by the extreme altruism and genuine concern for human life and dignity that I've witnessed from all those who care about the BVI and the people in it. My faith in humankind has certainly been bolstered, and it has fuelled my determination to ensure the Relief Fund is a success and continues to function to help those in need. BV Islanders are a beautiful resilient people who have come together as neighbors, sharing food and what little they have in a spirit that is truly humbling.
Going forward we will continue to coordinate relief efforts to meet the most imminent needs of the BVI, but we need all the help we can to make a difference and improve the lives of those in truly heartbreaking circumstances.