Rhonda Charles advances sure footedly through the dense foliage of food crops that she was forced to abandon months ago. She moves through the terraced garden beds with the familiarity of a mother. Many of the plants are just starting to push out green leaves.
The recovering farm in Coulls Hill, located within a 10 km radius zone from the Soufrière volcano crater is a visual reminder that half a year ago, the entire area was covered in volcanic ash.
When the explosive eruption occurred on April 9, Rhonda was among 20,000 people in St. Vincent & the Grenadines(SVG), who were forced to evacuate, just one day prior, following government evacuation orders delivered to residents in the surrounding areas.
The impact of the event was severely felt in the north of the island, an area known for commercial agriculture and subsistence farming.
The damage to infrastructure, crops and animals was widespread in the country’s breadbasket, reducing exports to the neighbouring islands.
Twenty per cent of the island’s population fled their homes in search of shelter in and around the nation’s capital.
Rhonda, a lifelong farmer and the matriarch of a multi-generational household of eight, had no choice but to leave her farm and shelter with family elsewhere on the island. Determined not to be a burden, she registered for official sources of social support.
The cash assistance that she received made it possible for her family to meet food and other needs throughout their period of displacement.
Like many others in her community, Rhonda’s livelihood is dependent on yields from crops— celery, lettuce, sweet peppers, bananas, avocadoes, and ground provisions such as sweet potato and yam— and a small drove of pigs. Only one of her pigs survived and cash crops and fruit trees were damaged.
But the cash assistance is helping her to get her home and farm operational once again.
“It was very useful for me,” she says, of the cash based assistance. “It helped me to get medical assistance for my family. It also helped me to pay my bills.” On the farm, Rhonda was able to hire two men to assist her in clearing ash so that she could restart cultivation.
But while some displaced residents like Rhonda would return to their homes as early as May and June, it would be months before many of those in the most affected areas would return, forcing them to remain in public shelters and private accommodations without access to their typical income streams.
Rhonda is among the 19,200 displaced people who benefitted from much-needed financial assistance through the Soufrière Relief Grant, established by the Ministry of National Mobilisation in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
To date, the grant has distributed approximately US $1.96 million through a system of cash transfers, facilitated through digitalised registration and needs assessment processes implemented by the World Food Programme(WFP), in the immediate aftermath of the eruption. Upon the fulfilment of verification processes for onboarding into the programme, cash transfers were issued through local money transfer providers to those who needed it most.
The Soufrière Relief Grant is part of a multi-partner response involving other United Nations agencies and national, regional and international entities— the Government of Canada, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the Government of Germany, the United Nations Central Emergency Relief Fund, USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and WFP’s internal funds.
WFP also partnered with the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency to support the National Emergency Management Organization to receive, manage and deliver donated relief items to affected persons.
WFP’s support to the Soufriere Relief Grant has laid the groundwork for continued assistance to vulnerable and impacted people, from the government and through the World Bank, from which the country has received longer term financing with the technical support of the WFP.
While La Soufrière response efforts will come to a close by the end of the year, WFP’s work with the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines continues, using lessons derived from this response to better prepare for and plan for future emergency situations.
This article, poduced by Carla Alleyne provides a 6-month assessment post-eruption of La Soufrière volcano. It also details the multi-partner response by the World Food Programme, other United Nations agencies and national, regional and international entities in the aftermath of the eruption.