Hurricane-hit British overseas territories look 'apocalyptic'
Priti Patel was on a whistle-stop tour of the Caribbean as she announced a £5 million pledge of UK aid to help Dominica, an island which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria earlier this week.
On Sunday she visited the British Virgin Island of Jost Van Dyke and then Anguilla to survey the level of devastation caused when they were pummelled by Hurricane Irma.
“The scene is like something out of a horror movie, very apocalyptic,” she said when describing her first impressions of some of the damage.
“And when you look at the landscape as well, we have seen decimation of all green vegetation, everything has gone. It is very stark.”
She began the trip, which Ms Patel said she was “adamant” to undertake, with a visit to HMS Ocean, Britain’s biggest in service warship that was recently re-tasked to help with aid efforts.
The helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ship arrived in the region on Friday packed with 60 tonnes of UK aid - almost doubling the amount in the region.
After inspecting the cargo of shelter kits, tools, vehicles, building materials and buckets packed into the hangar, she toured the rest of the ship with the captain, Robert Pedre.
Ms Patel then took a helicopter over to the British Virgin Island of Jost Van Dyke, and after speaking with those affected told a gathered crowd that
“we are so with you”.
Climbing back on board the Merlin MK 3, Ms Patel stood at the open door of the helicopter to get a better view of the vast carnage on Tortola below.
Speaking to the Press Association, she said being able to do that was a “real privilege”.
“The scale of what has happened is just extraordinary and unprecedented,” Ms Patel said of what she saw.
“I have to say I feel I have used that term a lot this year, because every crisis I go to is unprecedented. But certainly for the Caribbean region, that absolutely applies.”
There are more than 2,000 UK military personnel currently working on the relief effort in the Caribbean, making it the largest deployment of UK personnel anywhere in the world.
Delivering aid to those in need, helping to clear debris and fix buildings, water and power supplies across the affected overseas territories, Ms Patel said the military have played a “remarkable role” since Irma.
She said: “Irrespective of what people are saying about aid and all the rest of it, quite frankly in times of crisis British aid is there for British citizens, that is effectively what we have been doing here.
“Our overseas territories are British territories with British citizens and that is why we have this incredible operation, including the MoD, DfID and the Foreign Office, making sure we can help these countries pick themselves up and stand on their own two feet again.”
The £5 million pledge brings the British government’s financial support for islands hit by Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma to £62 million.
The Government is also doubling any UK public donations made to the British Red Cross’ Irma and Maria appeals, a pledge which has so far raised more than £2 million.
Pressed on how the Government intends to help affected overseas territories “build back better”, Ms Patel said she will make sure her department “leans in very heavily”.
“I have been using the language of ‘build back better’ long before some others have,” she said.
“I have been very clear about building for resilience, building for the long term, but ensuring we work with the governments - this isn’t an external plan or approach which can be parachuted in.
“This has to be bottom up, it has to be led by the governments and the governors, and the politicians in country.
“They are the ones that have to develop their plan, we will work with them to almost build back better, to catalyse it and make sure it is - that we are testing and questioning, is it looking to the future enough? Is it resilient enough? Asking those questions and seeing what more we need to do in terms of adding value.
“Building back better is a long-term project, it does not happen overnight and I am not going to kid anyone and say, ‘it will all happen very quickly and it will all be wonderful and back to normal’.
“That is not how it is going to work, and so managing expectations will be crucial to that.”