Henry Handfield, Fisher, shares his story of triumph over hurricane disaster beside his boat which he built back better with the help of a UNDP hurricane recovery grant

UNDP supports economic recovery on TCI with grants to MSMEs 



Henry Handfield works the waters of South Caicos – fishing capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) – where up to 70% of the population rely on fishing for a living. When category five Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck in September 2017, severely damaging small fishing boats like Handfield’s, livelihoods and supplies took a hit.

He recounts “heart-breaking” moments the morning after:  “… (My boat) was flipped upside down and one portion of it was broken off … all the top of the engine was smashed up, the Bimini roof was destroyed … all I had was the hull of this boat …,” Handfield recalls.  “… 90% of the boats were destroyed or badly damaged,” he estimates. “… And it took us a while to get back to that place where we were able to get out and start fishing again ...”

Study confirms major damage to MSMEs - 83% impact to private sector overall

Small scale operations like Handfield’s are a backbone of transportation, food, water, employment and ultimately, the TCI economy.  Fishing is number three in contribution to GDP behind tourism and offshore banking and some 97% of the local population eat fish at least once per week, a 2015 marine fisheries study on TCI stated. Sophia Thomas, Director of the TCI Centre for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) confirms, “of course we understand the value Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSME) play to the country as a whole.” Concerned, TCI CED undertook a post hurricane survey. “A large majority of MSME in TCI were severely impacted”, she said. “The damages were mainly structural and inventory ... so there was significant delay in a lot of them reopening particularly on Salt Cay, South Caicos and Grand Turk.  

Packing winds as high as 175 miles per hour, Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused total estimated damage of US$289.6 million on TCI, according to a UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC) report. Some 83 per cent of the private sector was impacted, mainly due to damage in the tourism and housing sectors. The report states that the social and the productive sectors accounted for 44.1% damage, followed by infrastructure with 11% and environment with 0.5% of total damage. Damage to hotels and tour operations accounted for the majority of damage in the productive sector, and housing in the social sector, the report concludes.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in consultation with the TCI Government saw an opportunity to help rebuild and sustain the economy of the Islands through a total of USD 40 000 in support to small and micro businesses impacted by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

One of 40 MSMEs selected by the TCI CED for UNDP hurricane recovery grants, Handfield says his micro grant of USD $550 made an impact: “The help I got from UNDP was very helpful … it was able to fill a gap. I was able to take that and put with some other monies to remodel this boat.” He set about erecting a tough new roof for his boat, remodelling the sides and the engine so it could become a better version of his working boat again. 

Other Grantees included pest control companies, farmers, fishermen, taxis, schools, restaurants, manufacturers, vacation rentals and retail establishments. A total of 60 MSME, including the 40 grantees also participated in all-island Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Contingency Planning workshops funded by UNDP and coordinated by the CED in partnership with the Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies (DDME).  The workshops were designed to strengthen the resilience of MSMEs in responding to natural disasters.

Multi dimensional hurricane recovery and disaster preparedness approach to TCI

The hurricane recovery grant programme is part of a comprehensive, multi-dimensional hurricane recovery and disaster preparedness project funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and coordinated through its country office in Kingston, Jamaica in partnership with the Government and people of TCI. 

“One component put money in the hands of those who needed it most by providing cash for work on a debris removal programme, and grants to MSME that create employment in the islands – to help them recover and get back on their feet.” explains Bruno Pouezat, UNDP Resident Representative to Jamaica, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands. 

In parallel, he outlined, UNDP also helped the TCI Government organize itself to prepare better for future hurricanes by: Supporting a social and economic impact analysis of hurricanes; a debris and waste management plan; and capacity building for government and MSME in minimizing disaster risk and quicker recovery for the future. A last component is designed to “help build the financial capacity of the government to cope with disaster by developing innovative financial products that will make to easier to support reconstruction and recovery in the future,” he explained.

Sole water reatil store damaged, then builds back better

The hurricane recovery micro grants ranging from $500 USD to 1500 USD per MSME targeted businesses hardest hit, some of them lone suppliers on their respective islands in the TCI archipelago. Harbour D’Light, a water purification company also from South Caicos, is one such. It is the only water purification retail store on South Caicos. So, when it was damaged, the impact was felt throughout the island. Owner James Dean recalls the high demand for the water after the hurricane and the frustration felt by himself and the entire community as he was unable to supply. With his hurricane recovery grant he was able to upgrade his purification system that turns sea water into fresh, potable drinking water. “It helped me change up everything and put it back into a sustainable situation,” he said. Dean says he was able to build back his system better, amplifying his capacity to pump less salt water and purify more fresh water.

South Caicos was declared 99.1% damaged

Yvonne Cox, District Commissioner of South Caicos – one of two islands hardest hit in the TCI archipelago – says the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency ruled South Caicos 99.1% damaged. “Our bigger businesses would have been able to withstand more and they would have been more resilient ... been able to bounce back a little quicker than our small businesses. Our small businesses structurally would not have been able to take that impact. And financially too they would not have had financial power to recover as quickly. And so they would have needed more attention as they are considered more vulnerable. “

Mary Iona Harvey – North Caicos – Gas station operator

Some 61 kilometres north west of South Caicos on Middle Caicos, Mary Iona Harvey of Harvey and Sons Service Station, one of two gas station operators on the island, discovered how vulnerable her business was. “When the hurricane struck the operation was finish,” Harvey says emphatically. ‘’We had no operation because everything was shut down. You couldn’t get gas from here and in there was full of water.” Transportation was impacted and islanders had to await supplies from boat. “Since the storm very few persons I have been able to serve with gas, but when the government vehicles come I serve them. And when the tourists come and fall short I serve them too. The grant – 1500 – my son – he collect it and he fix the roof – buy things to fix it … That was a good, good help ... We were able to open up but things not the same as it once was, but we still open up on a daily basis.”


Pig Farmer – McLean

Travelling from Middle Caicos across the mile-long North and Middle Caicos Causeway in North Caicos is McLean Gardiner the only pig farmer on the island. McLean supplies meat to homes and hotels in North Caicos, Middle Caicos, Provodenciales and Parrot Cay, a private island resort.  Describing his losses McLean says “Oh it was painful. All this here was down. Flat,” he says pointing to stalls with his stocks of pig. “I lose couple of pigs.” Business slowed down so “I was happy,” he responds, about the receipt of the hurricane recovery grant. “It helped me out. It helped pay guys to work here with me, to help buy material (like) cement, zinc and all I had to fix back up – because all was broken down. Things are back to normal now,” he reported.

On Grand Turk, administrative capital of the TCI, a day care operator and taxi operator shared their stories of loss and overcoming.


Beatrice Skippings of Teacher Bee Day Care Grand Turk

“The Day Care had to be shut down. I brought in the things from the playground and placed them in here. I even lost children because of the hurricanes,” she said, “… because I could not work. Because I am self-employed and could not work. We just had to shut it down and think about getting the repairs done. But everything was water.  The grant helped me to reopen. I was able to go and purchase some wire for the playground and some sheet rock where the ceiling was damaged. And then I had some funds set aside to get some wood to be able to get a deck in the playground and to do other repairs that is necessary so it’s a blessing.”

Anita Simmons of Queen B Taxi

Anita Simmons, who transports tourists and locals around Grand Turk in her Queen B Taxi service shakes her head as she recalls the morning after hurricane Irma. “ … I see destruction all around. Everything was destroyed. Everything was gone and in pieces. Poof. Like something came overnight and took it all. There was damage to the car. The windshield busted, the engine got messed up.” Recalling the impact on her business she says, “I had no ride for a good three months.” So she purchased a new taxi with her own savings, but her first taxi was still down. Now she is applying her grant to repairs so she will have a more efficient operation to transport tourists and locals around Grand Turk.


Mary Wilson Salt Cay – the only cleaning service operational on Salt Cay

Mary Wilson has a small cleaning business on Salt Cay, a tiny island of some 75 persons where tourism is number one since the salt ponds were abandoned. She is the only cleaning service on the island. Her business cleans the rental homes that accommodate the tourists visiting the island. She provides essential support services such as gutter cleaning, window cleaning, yard cleaning, laundry, and other household cleaning and maid services. “The hurricane impacted the cleaning service negatively and positively,” Mary Harvey says. She lost majority of cleaning supplies but more work came her way as demand for clean-up rose. “Personally it was devastating,” she said. The majority of cleaning supplies and equipment such as vacuum cleaners, power washers were wiped out. Then she heard about the grant: “It helped me out a great deal. I was very grateful. I was able to recover the majority of cleaning supplies and equipment that I lost so it was a great help. It helped me to get my business back up and running. I had to start from scratch.”


Renaldo Missick, Grammy’s Kitchen, Provo

Back on the main island, Providenciales, Renaldo Missick who runs Grammy’s Kitchen, a restaurant serving lunch and dinner to mainly working people, sustained damage to his roof, forcing closure for about three weeks. “I made great use of it,” he said of the grant. I used it to restore the roof. He was able to add the grant to some funds he had in had to complete repairs.


Great Impact - CED Director

Sophia Thomas, CED Director sums up the approach and impact of the MSME recovery grants this way: "We are grateful UNDP didn't focus on one particular sector or on one two islands. Their assistance was across the board and across sectors so I believe that it had a much greater impact."

Natural disasters are becoming the new norm – UNDP Resident Representative  

On a field visit to TCI in June to meet with the beneficiaries, UNDP Resident Representative and Deputy Resident Representative Elsie Laurence-Chounoune took the opportunity to secure feedback on the efficiency and effectiveness of the project, to meet with beneficiaries and partners and to determine how UNDP could do better in the future. His assessment: “Climate change means that natural disasters are becoming the new norm, so it’s not the disaster anymore, it’s the weather. We need to prepare better, and the relationship between the UNDP and the government is essential to our efficiency in responding in times of disaster.”

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