It is today October 6th 2017. Exactly one month later after the passing of our first category 5+ hurricane Irma.
Here on Saba a lot took place during the last 4 weeks. A water supply bank was set up to provide people of Saba with free bottled water. The Government organized a number of meetings with the hospitality sector and those affected by the hurricane. Supermarket owners brought in containers with groceries and fresh fruits and vegetables on their own initiative and everyone on Saba worked their butt off to get the property clean and organized again as it was before September 6th.
At the end of September, those working on contract or permanent service received their paycheck and life actually continued as before. Except for the vegetation who struggled to get going again. But even that got covered after 4 weeks. New leaves and small flowers starting to show and life on Saba pretty much continues like before the hurricanes.
This is what you see from the outside; the friendliness, the cooperation and the Saba style of living. A perfect reason for visitors to come to Saba and to enjoy our lifestyle, especially knowing that the corals suffered minor damage and that most of the trails are open for hiking again.
The reality is unfortunately different.
1. So far, one tourist came to Saba via St. Kitts to stay on Saba for a number of days. A few RCN personnel from Bonaire came to support various departments on the island.
2. Most dive boats have been on shore since there are no customers.
3. Most fishing boats remain in the docks because there is no market yet.
4. Hotels are nearly to complete empty. Hardly any income has been generated over the last 4 weeks.
5. Restaurants open on irregular hours since it is not profitable to be open every night.
6. Taxi drivers stay at home and most of them live from their pension.
7. Businesses starting to close since it is more expensive to keep them open than close them.
8. A remarkable group of people have reported at the Social Affairs department for financial compensation since they lost their job.
What I wrote last month is now actually happening and taking place and seen the slow developments I strongly believe that this is only the beginning, especially for those businesses depending on tourism and island visitors. Seen the reaction coming from The Netherlands and the minimum results of all initiatives taken, I don’t think that drowning businesses can expect much support over the coming months.
As a result of this we will witness the closure of more businesses for the time being since they are unable to pay their bills and personnel even if they have the possibility to pay a following month. The accumulation of expenses will only trigger a heavier financial burden on businesses in the future.
We will also so the unemployment figure going up, and we all know what the consequences of this will be. Less spendable money which will have a knock on effect on the grocery stores and eventually the quality of life.
Again, I do not want to sound negative or pessimistic. On the contrary. I believe in seeing thing in a realistic perspective and hope that this will contribute to those in charge who judge over our future.
I am therefore asking the Dutch Government politely to support and assist those businesses on Saba who are suffering now heavily and who have to lay off personnel. These companies where the backbone of the island before the hurricane by providing tourist services and activities and expose the island abroad as one of the best tourist destinations in the Caribbean. If this will disappear because of lack of financial support, the impact on Saba’s economy will be even much bigger than anyone can imagine.
Hemmie van Xanten