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In response to the widespread destruction to a number of Caribbean countries from the very active 2004 hurricane season, the University of the West Indies has initiated a ‘Vice Chancellor’s Hurricane Recovery Task Force’ to offer technical advice and assistance to countries affected by Hurricane Ivan, in particular. A database has been compiled of the relevant expertise available at the University, from among the academic and senior administrative staff, who could provide advisory and technical service in a broad range of sectors, including housing, education, psychological counselling, the environment, agriculture including livestock and fisheries, as well as economic and policy planning. The sectors on the database have been sub-divided into assistance for immediate recovery, short-term and long-term phases and eventual reduction of vulnerability to hurricane damage.

As part of this effort, the newly installed Vice Chancellor, Professor E. Nigel Harris and Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Lawrence Carrington, who has responsibility for the Non-Campus Countries and Distance Education, visited the worst-hit country, Grenada, to ascertain the ways in which the UWI could offer immediate relief. They met with the Prime Minister, Dr the Rt Hon Keith Mitchell, the Minister of Education, the Hon Claris Charles and with the staff and students of the University of the West Indies Centre in Grenada. One of the measures taken was to waive the tuition fees of all Grenadian students currently enrolled at the UWI. Despite the fact that the University’s finances are extremely strained at present, this concession, valued at over EC$1 million, was a gesture which had the unanimous support of all constituents of the University. In addition, a benefit cricket match for Grenadian students has been arranged by Professor Hilary Beckles, to be played at the 3Ws Oval, Cave Hill Campus, between a team captained by Brian Lara and a Cave Hill campus eleven.

The University of the West Indies has offered immediate assistance to Grenada in two crucial areas of the rehabilitation and reconstruction being pursued by the Government: the psycho-social well-being of affected citizens and shelter, specifically housing and building restoration. The UWI can provide psycho-social counselling services and can assist in the evaluation of proposed housing and building restoration plans now before the Government.

In the area of Education, Professor Carrington assured Minister Charles that the University was prepared to partner with the T.A. Marryshow College, the Ministry of Education and other constituents, in a strategic planning effort to assess the human resource needs of Grenada and to structure educational programmes to meet those needs.

The Vice Chancellor also held discussions with Prime Minister the Most Honourable P.J. Patterson of Jamaica as well as with Prime Minister the Hon Patrick Manning of Trinidad & Tobago about the UWI initiative.

In the long-term, it is vital to develop and implement strategies to reduce the Caribbean’s vulnerability to natural disasters, such as revising and enforcing building codes and putting in place environmental protection measures that would minimize erosion, landslides, flooding and related negative outcomes. Accordingly, Vice Chancellor Harris is proposing the establishment of a Regional Centre of Excellence in Disaster Management, in collaboration with institutions such as the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Response Agency (CDERA), CARICOM, regional banking institutions and possibly, regional insurance agencies.

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