By Navendra Seoraj
TRADE between Guyana and its Caribbean counterparts continues unhindered, despite the eruptions at the ‘La Soufrière’ Volcano, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, has said.
The La Soufriere volcano, after years, erupted explosively on April 9, blanketing the island in a layer of ash and forcing some 20,000 people to evacuate their homes. The volcano continued its eruption on Friday sending a column of ash, estimated at roughly 8,000 meters, towards the west of the island, the Seismic Research Centre (SRC) of the University of the West Indies (UWI) said.
According to a report from American independent, non-profit media organisation, the National Public Radio (NPR), periodic eruptions have covered the island in ash and flows of molten rock and gas have gushed down the mountainside. Residents have been displaced and are left without clean water or electricity, adding a humanitarian emergency into the mix.
And, although there has been an outpouring of support for the island-nation, access to St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been restricted since the eruptions began. Airports are shut down and maritime travel is limited, hindering some support efforts.
In the first week of the eruptions, Barbados too was affected by the volcanic ash, which travelled miles to cover streets and surfaces there. Though destabilising in some way or another to the affected islands, Minister Mustapha has said that there is no immediate impact on local trade.
When asked recently about the effects of the natural disaster on local trade, the minister said: “Immediately, no. They are moving people to other islands, so we will have to closely examine our exports of our rice and agro-processed product. The GMC [Guyana Marketing Corporation] has dedicated staff that is monitoring the situation.”
Guyana’s exports to St Vincent and the Grenadines alone were worth US$3.6 million during 2019, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade. For the time being, as said by the minister, there is no immediate effect on trade, but the situation will be monitored closely over the next two weeks.
“Also, it should be noted if lots of people remain [on the island], imports of food can increase as a result of relief packages. GMC will be monitoring,” Minister Mustapha related.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Hugh Todd, was reported as saying that Guyana has been providing supplies to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, since that is what the country is able to do at this time.
So far, a vessel filled with 350 tonnes of supplies and another twenty-foot container filled with water supplies have been sent to the island.
Guyana’s President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, has said that continuous support will be provided to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as efforts in collaboration with the private sector will continue.
It was reported recently too that with some Guyanese, who have been living in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, showing some interest in returning to Guyana, following the ongoing volcanic eruptions on the island, possible repatriation arrangements are being assessed.
“We’re still assessing those persons who might want to return and that is the case, we will make arrangements for that but right now, the airspace is closed and the focus right now, based on the request from the government of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is for support for food items, water supplies and sanitisation items and so forth,” Minister Todd said.