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OH WHAT A week it was. The last seven days were marked by rushing and uncertainty ahead of the passage of what eventually became Tropical Storm Matthew.
Yes, we may have six months or more to prepare for the Atlantic hurricane season, but the truth is that most Barbadians were ill-equipped and unprepared for Matthew.
From trying to get some biscuits along with some high sodium corned beef and a few tins of sardines plus some bottled water, the low-level of readiness was very evident. This had nothing to do with the individual’s type of job, income bracket or home address.
It was a worrisome sight, especially since there was clear notification and indication since Sunday that something was developing.
This is not a situation to make light or snigger about since it could be about safeguarding our lives or that of our loved ones and protecting property.
The problem is both at the individual and national level. We seem to believe that we will always be out of harm’s way when it comes to a storm although Tomas in 2010 should have taught us a lesson. To this day some people who suffered during those high winds still have not been able to bounce back to normalcy.
It is evident from driving around Barbados that many houses are not going to withstand winds of 80 miles, far less 100-plus miles per hour.
We still have too many unstable galvanised fences around homes that can become deadly flying missiles and too many of our high tension electricity lines are above ground, even in some of the residential developments of the past 30 years. It can be expected that following very high winds these power lines could become extremely dangerous.
Far too many of our houses are also still uninsured.
The belief that Government has a sinking fund without a bottom to which all who suffer during a storm can get help is but a big myth; it is one which needs to be dispelled.
Yes, a storm at this time of the year is a big worry given the impact it can do both at the individual and national level.
These issues of disaster prevention, disaster mitigation and disaster preparedness are not priorities among the know-it-all politicians and their political parties and it does not get the necessary attention at the parish or community level. Selwyn Brooks of the St James District Emergency Organisation and his colleague John Haynes from St John are two exceptions. The members of the Roving Response Team can also be counted among that elite group. Yes, there are some companies which do take disaster preparedness and business continuity seriously and have various types of plans in place.
Unfortunately, much of the focus is on storms and, more recently, tsunamis.
But how well prepared are we in Barbados for major land slippage in the Scotland District; what about a flood which could easily be compounded by the mountains of garbage in plastic bags all across the island, plus the non-maintenance of so many wells on agricultural lands which play such a critical role in taking off the rainwater? How equipped are we for a major wildfire, a prolonged drought or an earthquake?
Then there are the communicable diseases which are always likely in this globalised world we live in. It could be Ebola, cholera, tuberculosis or some other crippling disease. The fastest and most likely response will be those similar to the “not near here” echoed so loudly when consideration was being given to the special Ebola facility at Enmore complex. We would perhaps want a military hospital ship to dock offshore, and far off north point.
Too little emphasis is placed on disaster prevention, disaster mitigation and disaster preparedness.
The situation calls for public sector leadership with the private sector and NGOs, including the churches and professional bodies, all being involved.
At a time when natural disasters are likely and man-made ones probable, we ought to leave nothing to chance, believing that it can’t or won’t happen here.