Former President Bill Clinton is lending his convening powers and the Clinton Foundation’s resources to help the hurricane-struck Caribbean as it struggles to rebuild months after hurricanes Irma and Maria.
At the request of leaders in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, the Clinton Foundation said Thursday that it will launch a new organization — the Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery — on behalf of the two U.S. territories and two eastern Caribbean nations to secure long-term investments to help. The first meeting will be held April 3 at the University of Miami with 300 to 400 representatives expected from businesses, government and non-governmental organizations.
“Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Caribbean community are in need, and we must answer that call,” Clinton said in a statement. “Together with leaders from government, business, and civil society, we can demonstrate what is possible when we come together and bring our collective will and resources to bear on this crisis. We have a responsibility to act, for the people who are still suffering, and for all the future generations in the region.”
On Wednesday, Clinton presided over a meeting in New York where representatives of some of the governments and others involved in the recovery detailed the needs of the islands. Following the meeting, Clinton announced commitments to rebuild schools and homes in Dominica; the installation of solar equipment at primary care clinics in Puerto Rico; and the distribution of remote Zika testing for pregnant women across the region. He and others hope to build on those commitments as they solicit additional investments in the areas of energy, infrastructure, health, education and economic development. Clinton plans to visit Dominica and the U.S. Virgin Islands next week to see recovery efforts firsthand.
Kevin Thurm, who replaced former University of Miami President Donna Shalala last year as CEO of the foundation, said he believes Caribbean leaders sought out the organization because of “the president’s strong commitment” to helping nations develop, especially after a disaster, and the long history of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), which is part of the foundation, of bringing people together.
“We have a strong track record of working in the region and delivering results,” he said.
Though CGI stopped hosting its annual meeting in 2016 after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought the presidency, its work to support commitments made by world and business leaders has continued, Thurm said. The Clinton Foundation is using the same model that CGI used to raise money in Haiti.
Following four successive hurricanes that struck Haiti in 2008, and the country’s 2010 earthquake, Clinton helped secure $500 million in commitments from business leaders such as Denis O’Brien, the head of one of the Caribbean’s biggest telecom companies, Digicel. O’Brien built 275 schools that are now serving more than 50,000 students in Haiti, and also the country’s first Marriott in downtown Port-au-Prince. The Clinton Foundation, meanwhile, focused some of its initiatives on women-led and -owned enterprises.
“We have a record of specific achievements with our partners in Haiti,” said Thurm, noting that the financial commitments will follow the same structure as before. Commitments will be made public and 50 percent of them will have a local partner.
Andrew MacCalla, director of international programs and emergency response at DirectRelief, who was involved in Haiti for two years after the earthquake, said he believes the model can help the storm-struck Caribbean. His organization, he said, has already sent more than $50 million worth of medicine to Puerto Rico, and provided an emergency relief airlift with over $20 million worth of medicines.
Things still remain difficult in Puerto Rico, he said, where many are without power months after Hurricane Maria.
Too often, MacCalla added, people think of disasters impersonally “but it all comes back to how this is affecting individual people and their families. It’s always personal and it’s always local.”