Money Matters

A marshall plan for the British Virgin Islands

By Richard Branson
Mon, 09, 17

Two weeks ago, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded hit the islands I call home. Hurricane Irma plowed into the British Virgin Islands, bringing winds of around 185mph and torrential rains that caused immense, catastrophic damage. My team and I on the small islands of Necker and Moskito were fortunate enough to ride out the Category 5 hurricane safely, though it completely destroyed buildings and vegetation throughout the region.

On the larger island of Virgin Gorda nearby, Irma piled up the boats in the harbour like matchsticks. It threw huge cargo ships onto the rocks, blew the roofs off houses and churches where people had taken shelter, and destroyed resorts. Thousands of people across the islands have lost their homes.

British Virgin Islanders are some of the most resilient, proud and caring people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting — and now, more than ever, that resilience is being tested. Irma has placed incredible strain on the region — as it has on all communities in its path — but Islanders are rallying. In the days and weeks since the hurricane, I’ve witnessed many wonderful acts of human kindness. Everyone is coming together to support one another.

In the aftermath of natural disasters like this, one of the biggest challenges is to make sure that offers of support meet the real needs on the ground. While essential aid is now getting through, Islanders’ most urgent necessities include additional medical staff and supplies, and assistance in getting the power, water and sanitation systems back up and running.

My family and the Virgin team have been doing all we can to support the cause. We’ve helped set up relief distribution centres, and have handed out everything from water and canned food to medical and sanitary supplies. I’ve also travelled to Puerto Rico to coordinate local aid efforts. I’m deeply grateful to the Puerto Rican government for airlifting much-needed supplies to the islands.

Rebuilding the British Virgin Islands, however, will require more than just local assistance. The UK government, in particular, has an important role to play, both in terms of aid and infrastructure spending. The presence of the Royal Marines has been extremely helpful in supporting the early recovery. But ultimately, the region needs its own “Marshall Plan,” a programme led by the governments of the UK and the British Virgin Islands to promote sustainable development and economic revitalisation. In the short term, creating jobs will be paramount — people need steady work to rebuild their lives. In the long term, the islands need infrastructure that can withstand what are likely to be extreme weather events of greater frequency and ferocity, as the effects of climate change increase.

The Virgin Group has a crucial role to play in all this. Virgin Atlantic has arranged special relief flights, both independently and in conjunction with the UK Department for International Development, to the Caribbean. We’re also mobilising support for the British Red Cross and using our foundation, Virgin Unite, to organise fundraising efforts for local communities.

It’s been heart-warming to see the global outpouring of support for the Caribbean communities devastated by Hurricane Irma. In the months ahead — as Islanders try to pick up the pieces — the key for all of us is to stay positive. In life, as in business, resilience is vital.

Already I’m seeing evidence of the remarkable strength of the Caribbean people. I recently met a family from Virgin Gorda who recounted an astonishing tale of survival.

During the storm, their entire house blew away. So they raced to take shelter in another home, only to watch that house blow away. The parents then crouched down with their children next to a wall — just before it crumbled to the ground. Finally, the family found shelter at the bottom of a cistern, where they safely waited out the storm.

I’ve lived in the British Virgin Islands for a long time. I know that this gorgeous part of the world and its amazing people will bounce back stronger than ever.

Thank you so much for your continuing support. It means the world to us.

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© 20xx Richard Branson (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)