Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Kajsa Ollongren addressing the mental trauma issue in the Second Chamber on Tuesday.
THE HAGUE--There will be attention for the psychological consequences of Hurricane Irma during the reconstruction phase in St. Maarten, Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Kajsa Ollongren assured the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday.
The Minister agreed with Member of Parliament (MP) Antje Diertens of the Democratic Party D66 that the focus should not only be on the material aspect of the reconstruction, but also on the immaterial aspect, to help the people in dealing with the emotional consequences of the hurricane.
Diertens had called the Minister to the weekly Question Hour on Tuesday to ask her about the need for psychological assistance for the hurricane victims on St. Maarten, a matter that was raised in the Zembla documentary that was broadcast on TV on Monday. Diertens said the people showed great resilience during the aftermath of the hurricane. “But the violence of nature also has a psychological impact, which should not be underestimated.”
Diertens spoke of the victims, about the severe stress that they suffered during and after the hurricane. “People were dead scared during the passage of the hurricane. They tried to protect their children and hoped that their house would remain standing. People who lost everything, who emerged from their shelters and saw that their lives had been turned upside down.”
The MP referred to the urgent call of the St. Maarten Association of Psychologists to authorities about the lack of attention for the mental aspects of the hurricane and the psychological wellbeing of the people. The association warned about post traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS).
“How do we ensure that there is not only attention for the material damage, but also for the psychological damage? How will the money from the Reconstruction Fund be used in such a way that the island will emerge stronger in the long run? We need to assist the persons who carry the island, who form the community during the rebuilding phase. They need to be strong to work on the reconstruction,” said Diertens.
Minister Ollongren agreed that it was important to support the hurricane victims in what she called a “human tragedy.” She said that in first instance people went into the “survival mode,” finding solutions for their most urgent problems.
“But we should not underestimate what kind of effect that can have on people, also on the long run. Ultimately people want to continue with their lives. They will carry this event with them for the rest of their lives, but they will have to be able to process what has happened,” she said.
Ollongren said that during the emergency phase, there had been attention for psycho-social assistance and mental support, especially for the traumatised children, many of whom not only lost their home, but who also had to deal with their damaged school. An estimated 30 per cent of the people have developed severe mental problems since the hurricane, according to the St. Maarten Association of Psychologists.
MP Liesbeth van Tongeren of the green left party GroenLinks asked the Minister whether she was considering establishing a format whereby the people on the island have a voice in the decision-taking process during the reconstruction phase. “Experts told me it is important to give people the feeling that they have a say,” she said. She mentioned community councils.
The Minister said she found this to be a good suggestion. “The people who are in need of those funds should have a say in the manner in which this money is spent.” She said that this would also help to ensure that the reconstruction funds would end up in the right place. She said that State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops, who is currently visiting St. Maarten, also spoke with victims and social organisations.
MP Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) asked the Minister when the Reconstruction Fund would kick-off. “People on St. Maarten are waiting. They are waiting for a roof, a job, income. They are under the impression that talks about the reconstruction have been ongoing for a long time, but they are asking why it isn’t happening as yet. What is the problem and what needs to be done to start tomorrow?” he said.
Ollongren reiterated that the Dutch Government required the explicit approval of two conditions: the establishing of the Integrity Chamber and a beefed-up border control. She said that after Friday’s events, the instruction of the Kingdom Council of Ministers and the subsequent resignation of Prime Minister William Marlin, the political situation had changed.
Talks can now resume about the start of the Reconstruction Fund, while the last issue, the establishing of the Integrity Chamber was being dealt with. “A step or two still need to be taken, but we are now cautiously optimistic about the outcome. The idea is to start with the reconstruction as soon as possible,” said the Minister.