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Costly Haiti - Jamaica struggles with big relief bill

Published:Monday | February 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

THE JAMAICAN Government could be forced to recall health and Jamaica Defence Force personnel from Haiti this week as the country struggles with a $700,000-per-day operational bill.

Jamaica is leading the CARICOM response in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake that tumbled sections of Haiti on January 12.

The country sent fire personnel, health workers and soldiers to Haiti in the aftermath of the disaster. Other CARICOM countries have pledged assistance in the form of personnel.

Yesterday, National Security Minister Dwight Nelson told The Gleaner the region had so far racked up $38 million in expenses and that the bill could climb to $50 million this week.

Nelson said Jamaica could be forced to pull its contingent, which makes up the bulk of CARICOM presence in Haiti if other member countries fail to pull their weight.

"We are awaiting some promised assistance from our CARICOM partners, particularly Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados," Nelson told The Gleaner.

Dealt a severe blow by the global economic crisis, Jamaica is now in line for funding assistance for balance-of-payment support from the International Monetary Fund.

The country has been forced to delay capital projects because of a scarcity of funds. At the same time, Prime Minister Bruce Golding has instructed permanent secretaries within ministries to minimise their spending.

Yesterday, the national security minister said Jamaica had been promised an advance of funds from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) .

Nelson said that the executive director of CDEMA, Jeremy Collymore, had informed the Jamaican Government that it would be advancing $10 million, pending receipts of invoice on the JDF-Ministry of Health operation.

"They are asking us to prepare a detailed costing of the operation," Nelson said.

Collymore said the CDEMA has 350 persons in the operational area, including 35 members of the CARICOM Disaster Relief Unit. He says he also expects that regional aid could start going into Haiti this week, using Jamaica as the operational hub.

Last Friday, the Bureau of Heads of Government of CARICOM said it would ensure the continued operations in Haiti of the Jamaican contingent which has been on the ground since January 13.

Nelson has also said that Barbados would be deploying 80 soldiers to complement the more than 100 JDF boots now on the ground.

In the aftermath of the 7.0 earthquake which left a trail of death and destruction in Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana both announced US$1 million in immediate relief to Port-au-Prince, while St Lucia said it would provide assistance under the wider CARICOM initiative.

The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) said then that it would provide nearly US$1 million in immediate relief.

Quick action

Jamaica reacted quickly to the news of the January 12 jolt with Prime Minister Bruce Golding, Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller and a high-level team rushing off to Haiti to speak with that country's President Réne Préval.

Days later, Jamaica hosted a top-level meeting comprising CARICOM Chairman Roosevelt Skerrit, General Secretary Edwin Carrington and Prime Minister David Thompson of Barbados.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Heads of Government of CARICOM has announced that a small unit is to be established to coordinate CARICOM's continued assistance to Haiti over the long term. The unit will liaise with CDEMA and other agencies involved in the Caricom response to the disaster.

Member states and associate members will be asked to identify focal points to work with the unit.

The unit will work closely with CARICOM's special envoy on Haiti, former Prime Minister of Jamaica P.J. Patterson.

More than 1,000 persons have been treated through CARICOM assistance in Haiti. Jamaican firefighters helped in the recovery of seven persons during the search-and-rescue phase of the assistance.