Located in the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean, Sint Maarten and St. Martin comprise one small island of fewer than 80,000 people. The northern part of the island, St. Martin, is a French territory, while Sint Maarten, the southern portion, is a former Dutch colony that gained independence within the Dutch Kingdom in 2010. The local island economy centers around tourism, as the island draws more than one million tourists every year to its scenic beaches and resorts.
In September 2017, Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 hurricane with winds up to 182 miles per hour, devastated the once serene and lively island. Responsible for 14 fatalities, Irma destroyed infrastructure and left residents without electricity, running water and telecommunications. Nearly two years after Irma hit the shores of the dual-country island, here are five facts about the resiliency in Sint Maarten.
Five Facts About Resiliency in Sint Maarten
- Irma took a massive hit on the island’s economic powerhouse: tourism. Since more than 99 percent of employees work in the service or industry sectors, many locals faced unemployment due to the destroyed restaurants and shops, the drastic drop in tourism and devastated resorts.
- Hurricane Irma caused as much as $3 billion in damages. Collapsed infrastructure, roofless buildings and homes and a deserted airport are all signs of how much physical damage Irma caused. However, some see reconstruction as an opportunity for new and improved resorts and tourist attractions, which will hopefully boost the tourism economy again, attracting millions of cruisers and destination vacationers who can revitalize the tourism-dependent economy.
- Improvements to Sint Maarten surpass improvements to St. Martin. This Caribbean island is unique in that both the Dutch and French governments preside over their half of the island. The relief responses of the European nations differ greatly and the results are visible, as the Dutch side rebuilt quicker than the French. The Dutch government also offered $650 million for relief and recovery efforts, which the island eventually accepted. However, residents report lacking basic necessities, even after the interim government accepted the sum.
- Prime Minister Leona Romero-Marlin has a seven-year recovery plan. This plan estimates $2.3 billion to recovery for the island. After two years, that included emergency, immediate and short-term needs, and the next five years include plans for recovery, resilience and development. Examples of disaster mitigation include improving emergency response coordination, involving the community in climate-change adaptation curriculum, awareness campaigns and emergency drills at all levels of society.
- The island still has access to the sea, a connection to nature and a feeling of home and community. Although residents withstood a terrifying storm and face the fear of uncertainty for the future, Sint Maarten/St. Martin is still home to thousands of residents who know and appreciate the natural beauty and deep-rooted connection to the island. Hurricane Irma brought together the local community, uniting residents to aid each other in rebuilding the place they know as home. The eye of the storm has long passed, but locals have a long way before returning to a sense of normalcy they had before the 2017 hurricane.
Almost two years since the winds and rains of Hurricane Irma transformed the once welcoming island into a deserted entity flooded with water and rubble, the remaining residents remain to show the resiliency in Sint Maarten to rebuild their homes and return the island to its former beauty.
– Keeley Griegor
Photo: Lionel Chamoiseau