The repair bill for the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten after it was devastated by Hurricane Irma is likely to be higher than the initial estimate of €550 million, junior home affairs minister Raymond Knops has warned.
On his first visit to the island since taking office, Knops said the scale of the task was clear. ‘We’re talking about a huge disaster with a great deal of damage. I’d almost say that whatever amount we send will never be enough, but for the time being it is a very substantial sum: twice as much as everyone on the island earns per year put together.’
Knops’s trip was partly designed to repair relations between the Netherlands and the Caribbean island, which is an autonomous nation within the kingdom. The previous prime minister, William Marlin, was dismissed by parliament after getting into a row with Knops’s predecessor, Ronald Plasterk, about the terms and conditions attached to Dutch aid.
The minister said he and prime minister Mark Rutte were in discussion with their French counterparts about co-ordinating efforts with the French-administered part of the island, Saint Martin. The two territories have a great deal of shared infrastructure in sectors such as agriculture, waste disposal and tourism.
A deal also needs to be concluded with the World Bank, which will be carrying out the reconstruction programme. ‘We want to sort this out as quickly as possible,’ said Knops. ‘The next hurricane season is on its way so we need to make haste.’