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Address on National Day of Reflection – Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin

To the people of Sint Maarten, to our residents and to our guests,

September 6th, 2017 will be forever etched in the memories of each and every person that was here, on our island, one year ago.

Together, we shared the life-changing experience of the most devastating Hurricane to ever hit Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma did not discriminate, with winds of over 185 miles per hour, this horrible storm left a path of destruction on Sint Maarten and many of our neighboring islands across the Caribbean Region.

On behalf of the Government of Sint Maarten, I dedicate this moment of silence to all those who lost their lives during the passing of Hurricane Irma, and wish their family and friends much strength on this National Day of Reflection.

To all that survived, but lost their homes, their businesses or their livelihoods; To the people of Sint Maarten, who continue to struggle with the trauma and pain that Hurricane Irma brought, I stand with you in solidarity and encourage you to remain steadfast as we build back our lives and our country. Together, we are a resilient people, and together, we will overcome.

On this National Day of Reflection, when the memories come back to us of the storm and its aftermath, the devastation, chaos and violence that Hurricane Irma initiated, I would like to express my gratitude to each and everyone who chose to help; who chose to take responsibility and who chose to start working, immediately, on the recovery of our island.

On behalf of the Government of Sint Maarten, I would especially like to thank the brave emergency responders of the Emergency Operation Center (EOC), all Civil Servants, the Dutch Military Forces, the Governments of the Netherlands, Aruba and Curacao, the numerous international agencies, local and international NGO’s, the District Community Councils and also the many individual unsung heroes who all contributed in one way or another in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. We are forever grateful to you.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Irma created unprecedented challenges for all of us, but it also brought new opportunities for our country. As a young nation, we are at a unique moment in history. We have the opportunity right now to decide the future of our island and to choose how we want to build a country that meets not just our desires, but the needs of our children and their children.

To guide our nation to a more resilient and sustainable future, the Government of Sint Maarten has developed a National Recovery and Resilience Plan. With the support of Parliament, as representatives of the people, this Plan sets an ambitious agenda for the future of our island. This is our roadmap to restore, secure and strengthen the well-being of the people of Sint Maarten.

We want to become a more resilient community with a healthy living environment without a smoking dump in the middle of Philipsburg. We plan to develop a resilient, growing, and more diversified economy that can withstand any type of disaster.

As a country in the Kingdom, devastated by one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded, the Government of Sint Maarten agreed to the the preconditions set by the Dutch Government for financial support to our recovery efforts. Subsequently, the Dutch Government contracted the World Bank to manage a 580 million US dollar Trust Fund for the recovery and resilience of Sint Maarten.

The World Bank manages these funds that are provided to Sint Maarten as grants, not as loans. We set the goals for our country, we choose where the funding goes and we work with the World Bank in ensuring that this funding is allocated in an effective, sustainable and transparent manner.

Some choose to debate whether the construction with the World Bank is fair, some decide to complain that the process is slow, and others try to spread fake news and make false promises about alternative options.

As Prime Minister, I choose differently, this government chooses differently. Together, we choose to commit to the people of Sint Maarten, to work as hard as we can to continue our recovery process with the support that is available from the Netherlands and the World Bank.

We will use the funding of the Netherlands and the expertise of the World Bank to address some of our biggest challenges, to work on a permanent solution for the dump, to strengthen our Government and to build homes for our people.

Until now, three grant agreements have been concluded with the World Bank. A total amount of 102.7 million US dollars has been allocated to projects that serve to address some of the most urgent needs of the people of Sint Maarten. With this money we will, for example, repair emergency shelters, support the repairs of severely damaged houses, strengthen our disaster preparedness and continue the income support and training program that is helping many unemployed or underemployed workers.

With the start of the first Trust Fund projects, we have achieved an important step in our recovery process. Throughout this process, proper planning and preparation remain paramount to ensure that the limited available funding is spent in a sustainable and effective manner.

As Prime Minister, I continue to ask for patience as we use this opportunity to rebuild our country more sustainable. While sometimes, frustrating, building back sustainable requires us taking the necessary time to ensure that our recovery is of such quality that it benefits the people of Sint Maarten for years to come.

On this National Day of Reflection, I want to remind each and every one of you that we are in this together. The success of the recovery process depends on all of us. Through faith and hard work Sint Maarten will rise again. Thank you, May God Bless our Sint Maarten land and keep us safe.