Damages estimated at US$53 million

Belmopan - August 25, 2007--- In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Hurricane Dean impacted northern Belize and the Cayes. In the aftermath, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker have been quickly stabilized. The Corozal District and parts of the Orange Walk district were devastated by Hurricane Dean. I therefore declared these areas to be disaster areas. But even in the midst of this disaster, as a nation we must first and foremost be thankful that God has shown us mercy and there has been no loss of life.

The terrible destruction caused by Hurricane Dean has been estimated at around $53 million US dollars. It will cost at least $10 million US dollars to replace or repair the hundreds of houses that have been completely or partially destroyed, or sustained structural damage.

We estimate that, between the districts of Corozal and Orange Walk, close to two thousand people are now homeless. The national priority is therefore to ensure that these people have access to food, good drinking water, medicine and sanitation services every day until we are able to get them out of the shelters. At the same time, we will shortly be making grants and loans, without the need for collateral, available so that people who need our help can repair their homes.

Yesterday I made a one-day trip to Honduras where I met with Central American leaders and the President of Taiwan. I have returned with the assurance that some of these leaders, especially the President of Taiwan, will be helping the people of Belize to get back on their feet. Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have been getting the word out to our international friends and requesting their help for our people. Several international agencies and financial institutions have already given undertakings to assist Belize in the near future.

The agriculture sector was also seriously affected. The papaya and sugar cane industries sustained extensive and severe damage. But let us not forget that Hurricane Dean also devastated many small farmers. In the papaya industry, for example, we will have to focus on getting trees replanted as quickly as possible.

But our priority will be on all those people employed in the agricultural sector, especially our small farmers who might not be able to work immediately. We will make sure these people get some kind of assistance where it is needed. We are grateful for the financial contributions made by the Social Security Board to NEMO and the Red Cross, and now call on them to activate the provision of unemployment benefits for those workers who are temporarily out of work due to this disaster.

In the aftermath of any disaster, anywhere in the world, it takes a while for things to settle down. The most important thing is to firmly establish a fair and orderly system for getting systematic relief to those who really need it. Yet in the middle of such national emergencies there are those who shamelessly exploit the situation to try to embarrass the government. I urge everyone to work together in the national interest. There is no other way to handle this situation.

We know the villages that have been most affected. We know where the homeless are being sheltered. We know what they need. And we are getting it to them. Our BDF, police and NEMO officials, working in coordination with organizations like the Belize Red Cross, are getting food, water, generators, medicines as well as building materials to people.

The more calm, focused and united we remain as a people, the quicker we can get the job done. I am confident that we will get the job done. Our objective is simple. Everyday we want to show progress in reducing the magnitude of this disaster.

We have identified a critical needs list for the disaster areas. This comprises food supplies and potable water, health and supplies, building materials, seeds and agrochemical supplies. People and organizations that wish to assist us should therefore keep this in mind.

I am satisfied that as government and people we took the necessary precautions to safeguard lives and property. In confronting Hurricane Dean our task was made easier by many people and organizations. I must therefore personally thank the team of meteorologists at the MET office, the Belize Coast Guard, the BDF and Police Department, the National Emergency Management Organization. In a sense, harder work lies ahead in ensuring that the hundreds of families most affected are able to move ahead with their lives as quickly and as meaningfully as possible.

In the meantime, I urge those who are in position to help themselves to continue the work of restoring normalcy to their lives, while government and our partner agencies make every effort to ease the burden of those most affected and least able to fend for themselves.

I am confident that the lessons learned from hurricane Dean will foster a greater spirit of unity and community among our resilient Belizean people.

I thank you.