Select Committee on International Development First Special Report

Memorandum submitted by the Department for International Development


MONTSERRAT (First and Sixth Reports 1997-98)


ODI Evaluation of HMG's Response to the Montserrat Crisis.

DFID welcomed this report, which it commissioned in response to a recommendation by the Committee, and which focussed on a particular period of the emergency (from July 1995 to November 1998). The evaluators concluded that the response to the crisis had been a qualified success.

Several of the evaluators' key lessons had already been taken on board by DFID, including a "Task Force"-style approach to dealing with emergency situations which was adopted for more recent crises in Mozambique and Kosovo. HMG departments are discussing draft terms of reference for an Overseas Territories "Task Force" comprising officials from relevant Departments to be assembled whenever a disaster warrants this.

Other lessons addressed included the need for continued close monitoring of the volcanic activity; steps to familiarise key Government of Montserrat officials with DFID procedures; and a wider assessment of the hazards faced by the Caribbean Overseas Territories and their preparedness levels.

DFID has reservations about some of the other suggested lessons including the proposed "fast-tracking" of emergency investments. Experience on Montserrat has shown that difficulties arose on a number of investments as a direct result of implementing such a practice. The suggestion of agreed common standards in the Overseas Territories for the provision of, for example, health care and education is also considered unrealistic. Appropriate standards are discussed on a case-by-case basis.

COT Disaster Preparedness

A copy of the study of disaster management capability in the five COTs is enclosed as requested. FCO hosted a meeting in the British Virgin Islands in May 2000 of Overseas Territories National Disaster Co-ordinators. The meeting agreed to create the Network of Emergency Managers in the Overseas Territories (NEMOT) which will facilitate disaster management and preparedness activities and provide mutual support. DFID has agreed to fund a Disaster Management Adviser to support NEMOT for an initial period of three years.

Current Volcanic Situation

The scientific and hazards assessment was updated in April 2000. It concluded that the volcano is now in a second major phase of dome growth (which started in November 1999) which could result in an eruption comparable to that of 1995-1998. The dome continues to grow at a moderate rate and a major collapse is overdue. However, scientists are optimistic there will be no threat to the north of the island and that the risk to human life is low.

DFID continue to fund scientific advice to the Montserrrat Volcano Observatory and have agreed to extend funding until July 2002. Separate funding is to be provided for the building of a permanent purpose built observatory with indirect sight of the volcano.

Numbers of Montserratians who remain off island

The current population of Montserrat is about 4,800. Thus, some 6,000 Montserratians have relocated since the crisis began. There has been an increase in the population over the last 12 to 18 months. Some 110 people have returned to date under DFID's Return Air Fare Scheme since its inception in May and June 1999.

Montserratian evacuees have been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and have full access to benefits including employment, income support, housing, state education and health care.

DFID has supported a number of initiatives to assist Montserratians who relocated to other Caribbean islands. Currently, it is funding a programme, managed by the Caribbean Conference of Churches, which provides financial assistance to vulnerable elderly and disabled evacuees and supports initiatives which aim to help the wider evacuee community become financially independent and integrated into local society. DFID is also assisting a Montserratian NGO in Antigua to provide advice to the community on employment opportunities and support for training.

DFID's current and planned activities in Montserrat.

DFID continues to work closely with the Government of Montserrat (GoM) implementing an agreed programme of activities aimed at promoting sustained economic and social recovery of the island following the volcanic crisis. The programme concentrates on health, education, private sector development and housing. To 1 September 2000, DFID has spent over £115m since July 1995. Provision in the 2000/2001 financial year is £24.1m.

DFID continues to provide budgetary support for GoM's recurrent expenditure. As part of this budget, £6.2m was pledged in 2000. This support is expected to continue to reduce over time as the Montserrat economy recovers. Support for the provision of housing on the island is also a key activity. Over £19 million has been provided so far for about 1,000 houses under various schemes, including accommodation for 100 elderly people. Agreements for a Mortgage and Housing Assistance project (also known as the "Soft Mortgage Scheme") have recently been concluded with the GoM and Bank of Montserrat. GoM are currently devising a 5 year strategy which will address future housing requirements. DFID's efforts in the housing sector will be concentrated on the most vulnerable social groups.

There are more than 80 ongoing projects in DFID's current portfolio. Health and education activities have a high priority. Upgrading of the St John's hospital buildings, costing £1.5m, has been completed. We await GoM's proposals for a new operating theatre. Arrangements with neighbouring islands for acute emergencies remain in place. We are also assisting GoM with reform of its social welfare systems.

In education DFID is funding the rehabilitation of Salem Campus to allow reoccupation this year by secondary school pupils. An early childhood centre will be ready early next year. DFID has agreed to support completion of the University of the West Indies teleconferencing distance-learning facility to enhance post-secondary and vocational education provision. GoM is currently developing a five year National Education Development Plan.

Support for the private sector through the provision of loans, training and retail space for small businesses is an important thrust of the development strategy. A recent review has recommended several new initiatives, including the provision of expert advice to GoM in devising an overall private sector development strategy; a new lending programme for micro-enterprises; and additional funds for the existing loans programme for more established businesses. We have also signalled our willingness to finance the construction of further factory space.

Further improvements are being made to the essential infrastructure of the island, including continued upgrading of power, fuel and road improvements. DFID funds regular helicopter and ferry services to Antigua. Work to upgrade the heliport and improve the Little Bay jetty is also underway.

New facilities for the Police and Fire Services are being provided. We have also recruited new expatriate officers for the Commissioner of Police and Force Development and Training posts to assist with the introduction of community policing and higher standards of service overall.

Other areas of support include an initiative to protect and sustainably manage Montserrat's remaining forests and reef resources. Future plans include building agricultural extension capacity within the Agriculture Department and the construction of an abattoir. GoM are developing a longer-term Natural Resources strategy for discussion.

A joint DFID/FCO team will visit Montserrat in late October to review with GoM officials progress under the Programme and to agree future priorities.

Current availability of insurance cover on Montserrat.

United Barbados and NEM West Indies Ltd have resumed business in Montserrat, together with a company new to the market, Nagico. Sun Alliance (East Caribbean) Ltd. may also offer some cover soon. None of the companies provide insurance against volcano and earthquake damage but they do cover hurricanes. Cover is available for new and existing properties outside the Exclusion Zone.

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