The UK government attracted unfair criticism in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma with suggestions from a number of quarters that the UK had not done enough and lacked urgency in it’s relief efforts. Most of the criticisms came from people who know little to nothing about disaster relief. The UK’s response has in fact been text book. You can read more at the excellent Thin Pinstriped Line blog here and here.
Are we though, when sequential hurricanes are removing entire postcodes from the map in the West Indies, acting at the political level with appropriate imagination and verve? I do not believe we are. It would not take much though, to turn this around. Here are two simple ideas which would create a change of basis for the Islanders.
First and as a priority, all children of school age from the affected islands should be evacuated to the UK, should their families so wish, housed with local families for a term and found places at schools for the duration. This will enable their Mum’s and Dad’s to focus on rebuilding their communities while the children continue their education in a safe environment free of disease and of course, further hurricanes. All the Government need do is ask and good people will step forward. Any critics should remember that we have form here. If we managed to evacuate 827,000 children of school age and 524,000 mothers and young children (under 5) in the first three days of September in 1939 we can certainly look after a few youngsters from the Caribbean until Christmas.
Second, having Royal Marines, sailors and soldiers on station is good but for the rebuild many, many more builders and craftsmen than we have in uniform will be needed. The Government therefore should immediately recruit 2,000 builders, plasterers, decorators, plumbers, electricians from across the UK. For administrative reasons they should be temporarily enlisted in the Reserve with the rank and pay of Corporal. They will undertake to spend 4 months rebuilding infrastructure and housing with an entitlement of one flight home and 5 days Rest & Recuperation during the period. While doing so they will use local paid labour and services and undertake to train young apprentices while working. Normal entry requirements of fitness, age and nationality will be suspended under ‘special measures.’ Normal daily military discipline will not apply but civil law obviously will. Military medical, insurance and repatriation rights will apply. The craftsmen will be discharged on their return. In addition, each island will be twinned with a major UK city who on request, will augment town planning, surveying, architectural, drainage and other infrastructure expertise as requested.
So, action with imagination and verve. The technical term for the next step is JFDI.