Hurricane Irma: Help from the Falkland Islands -September 2017

The Falkland Islands Government (FIG) has donated £200,000 from the government’s budget for reconstruction assistance in the UK’s Caribbean Overseas Territories (Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands) and in Antigua & Barbuda after the islands were badly damaged by hurricane Irma. A separate fund has been set up in Stanley for Falkland Islanders to make their own donations. The Falkland Islanders have a fine reputation for charitable giving, particularly following natural disasters. 

The North-Eastern Caribbean was devastated by hurricane Irma in early September. Irma was a category 5 hurricane, the highest category in terms of wind force, with 185 mph winds at its height on 6 September, making it one of the strongest storms in recent history. It caused catastrophic damage in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) and elsewhere including the Bahamas, Barbuda, Cuba and Florida. Early estimates suggest that the damage caused in all the countries and territories affected was upwards of US$62.7 billion. A follow-on storm, hurricane Maria, now also a Category 5 hurricane, took a similar path and has likely exacerbated the damage. 

According to the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, the disaster has prompted the largest response by the UK military and disaster response agencies since Libya. Over 1,100 UK military personnel (and 60 police) have been sent to the region to provide emergency assistance. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel, RFA Mounts Bay, was already in the Eastern Caribbean, specifically stationed there to provide emergency relief during the hurricane season – and HMS Ocean has also arrived. RAF aircraft are providing emergency supply flights to bring in necessary equipment and relief items. 

The UK Government has pledged £32 million in emergency aid with a commitment for a further £25 million, as necessary, and will match public donations to the Red Cross appeal up to £3 million. Boris Johnson visited Anguilla and BVI on 12-13 September followed soon afterwards by Lord Ahmed, Minister for the Caribbean, Commonwealth and the UK Overseas Territories (OTs) in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). UK support for these UK Overseas Territories has taken priority. 

The FIG donation to the three UK OTs affected and the small island of Barbuda is testament to the generous nature of the Falkland Islanders. The government donation of £200,000 is likely to be significantly enhanced once private donations are added. Previously, FIG responded generously, for example, to Chile’s coastline communities that were affected by the offshore earthquake in 2010. Falkland Islanders also keep in mind the assistance provided by UK Overseas Territories during the 1982 conflict with Argentina. The practice of mutual assistance and support between the UK OTs in such emergencies is a symbol of the strength of the bond between these small island British communities that want to retain their British connection.