"Embracing New Opportunities"
MESSAGE FROM HIS EXCELLENCY CHARLES A. SAVARIN, DAH PRESIDENT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF DOMINICA ON THE OCCASION OF THE OBSERVANCE OF THE 42ND ANNIVERSARY OF DOMINICA'S INDEPENDENCE ON 3RD NOVEMBER 2020
My Fellow Citizens, Residents and Visitors to our Blessed Isle,
Our God reigns, and He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He has been our constant help, mighty rock and firm foundation throughout our many struggles, challenges and difficulties over the past forty-two (42) years since Independence. We have come a long way and ought not to allow the uncertainties of life many of which are inevitable, to consume us, but rather remain confident and focused on the strength of God's love and His promise to never forsake His own.
In the Book of Psalms, we see the vulnerability of King David, who, notwithstanding his victories and great achievements, still encountered defeat and trials. Just like us, King David knew what it felt like to have no control over his circumstances, but he also knew exactly who to turn to as his source of hope, his source of strength.
May we also not forget that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ also knew what it was like to walk in the midst of a broken world, facing temptations and needing His own "bail-out." But in the end, with the help of the Father, He defeated even death and has and continues to bail us out.
It is, therefore, with an extraordinary sense of joy, pride, confidence and optimism that I address you on this special occasion of the observance of the 42nd Anniversary of our National Independence.
Lest we forget our countless blessings and phenomenal resilience over the years, please permit me at this juncture to highlight the many natural disasters that we have encountered since Independence in 1978, along with the significant negative impact on our development and advancement as a people and a Nation:
Nine months following our Independence, in August of 1979, Hurricane David caused total devastation, claimed 43 lives and 60% of the population was left homeless;
One month later of that same year, September 1979, Hurricane Frederick came and impacted infrastructure and agriculture;
One year later, August 1980, Hurricane Allen struck and again negatively affected infrastructure and Agriculture;
In September 1995, Hurricane Marilyn visited our shores, produced flash floods and severely damaged agriculture and the housing stock;
Four years after Marilyn, in November 1999, Hurricane Lenny produced sea surges of 30 to 40 feet which caused severe coastal damage;
Three years after Lenny, in January 2003, there was a major landslide in the farming community of Carholm which impacted agriculture and damned up the upper reaches of the Layou River creating the so-called Miracle Lake. The area was declared a flood prone/hazard area;
Almost two years later, in November 2004, the north of the island experienced a 6.3 Richter Scale Earthquake which caused severe damage to buildings and other infrastructure, thereby resulting in the north being declared a disaster area;
In August 2007, Hurricane Dean struck, produced flash flooding, caused 2 deaths and impacted agriculture and the housing stock;
One year later, in October 2008, Hurricane Omar produced sea surges of 20 to 30 feet, caused severe battering and damage to the west coast;
In May 2010, there was a major landslide in the community of San Sauveur which claimed 3 lives and caused severe damage to homes as a result of which the area was declared a disaster zone;
That same year 2010 leading to 2011, there were periods of severe drought which impacted the agricultural sector;
When the drought broke in 2011, Tropical Storm Ophelia drenched the island, causing severe flooding and damage to houses and roads;
Two years later in December of 2013, a trough system produced flash flooding which claimed 2 lives and caused damage to houses and roads;
In August 2015, Tropical Storm Erika battered the island causing severe flooding and widespread damage due to landslides, particularly in the community of Petite Savanne, and claimed numerous lives and loss of 90% of the islands GDP;
Two years later, in September 2017, Hurricane Maria – the most brutal and disastrous weather system ever experienced in living memory, wreaked widespread havoc and totally devastated the island. Maria claimed 31 lives, 37 persons remain missing, presumed dead, and the loss of 224% of the country's GDP; and
About one year later, in November of 2018, we experienced a trough system which flooded and impacted the northern part of the island.
Notwithstanding the major natural disasters of Erika and Maria, prior to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, our focus and the concentration of all our efforts had been centered on dealing with the aftermath of the devastations caused by these two major natural disasters. The Government adopted and embraced the vision of a new Dynamic Dominica coupled with a National Resilience Development Plan and specific focus on a digital economy as a crucial component of the "build back better" approach. These response strategies were effective and had a positive impact on our national recovery efforts particularly in the areas of Health, Tourism, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructural Development. At the end of 2019, we were very proud of our performance and achievements to date and were looking forward to the unfolding of the year 2020 with very high expectations. In January 2020, our expectations were justified by the forecast of the IMF that the Dominica economy was projected to grow by 5.5, 4.5 and 3.6 percent for the years 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively, and that global growth was expected to be 2.3 percent in 2020.
In January of 2020, we listened in disbelief to reports of the spread of the coronavirus or COVID-19 in nations across the globe. The major countries with the most developed transportation and communication systems appeared to be the hardest hit but inevitably the Caribbean soon joined the long list of countries affected. Fear and anxiety amplified as the virus posed not only a health threat to entire populations, resulting in high death rates particularly among the most vulnerable, but also severely impacted livelihoods, business activity and the economy in general, in even the most developed countries. Tourism, the lifeblood of the Caribbean, was most severely affected.
Dominica recorded its first case of the coronavirus on March 22, 2020.Government, businesses, communities and individuals collaborated and acted quickly and strategically to impose unprecedented measures to help contain this life-threatening disease. Dominica's response has succeeded and continues to do well in managing and containing the virus, ably supported by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and our development partners such as the World Bank, DFID/UK, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Governments of Canada, the Republic of Cuba, the Peoples' Republic of China and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela among others. To date, we have had a total of 40 positive cases with 9 active cases. We have had no COVID-19 related deaths, no community spread and recently, Dominica has been rated as a "moderate risk" country by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, we remain vulnerable as to date, the global picture shows 42,202,600 infected cases, 9,780,501 active cases, 1,145,245 deaths, and 31,276,854 recoveries; with the United States of America, Brazil, India, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, France including Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Martin, being the countries most severely impacted.
Our 42nd Anniversary of Independence is celebrated under the theme, "Embracing New Opportunities." Notwithstanding the global crisis, there will be opportunities to be embraced in certain fields of endeavour in the current and post-COVID world, more particularly, in the digital transformation of the economy. This can foster growth and opportunities in other avenues such as digital technologies, offshore medical services, risk assessment and insurance, project management, renewable energy, e-commerce, online education and employment, entertainment and gaming, etc.
My fellow citizens, residents, and visitors, we have been advised by the public health experts that a "New Normal" involving wearing of face masks, temperature checks, hand washing and social distancing will be here for some time, at least until a viable treatment and vaccine is found. Let us therefore remain committed to the national call to take action and defeat this virus which threatens us all.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank, encourage and recognize all those who have been on the frontline of this COVID-19 fight, and to empathize with those who have tested positive and have since recovered or are recovering from this disease. I also wish to thank you my fellow Dominicans for the great manifestation of your cooperation, discipline, maturity and sacrifice, and most particularly, for complying with the guidelines and advisories of the Ministry of Health. As we continue to adjust and adapt to this "New Normal" environment, let us all pray earnestly for the discovery of an effective treatment and vaccine for this dreadful disease.
Owing to the need for continued social distancing and in keeping with the advisory of the Ministry of Health to avoid massive gatherings, the Government has taken the decision to significantly scale down the highlight of our 2020 Independence Celebration – the Parade of Uniformed Groups, to a Virtual Independence Day Observance Ceremony at the State House Conference Centre on 3rd November at 9:00am; and the usual President's Reception has been cancelled for this year. I invite and encourage everyone at home and in the diaspora, to tune in or log in to the social media platform of your choice and be part of this special and memorable occasion.
Let us all embrace the new opportunities as they unfold, and continue to contribute to the recovery and restoration effort by getting involved in a project that allows for social distancing in our respective neighborhoods on Community Day of Service, and beyond.
On this memorable occasion of the attainment of 42 years of nationhood, I extend warmest greetings and congratulations on behalf of my wife, my family and myself to all citizens and residents of our beloved country.
May the Good Lord bless us with an enjoyable and peaceful celebration of our 42nd Anniversary of Independence amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and forever bless the Commonwealth of Dominica.
I thank you.