Everyone’s duty to be prepared
THE NATURAL DISASTER that struck St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica on Christmas Eve was not the type of season’s greetings the residents of these islands would have wanted. Neither was it the kind of pressure any of the islands of the Caribbean can afford during these times – already full of economic challenges and hardships.
What should have been a time of good cheer ended up being a period of sadness with the loss of many lives and unexpected financial hardship, given the millions of dollars in damage caused by the ravishing floodwaters.
If there is one good thing arising out of the entire saga, it is that the Caribbean islands recognized the importance of lending assistance to their neighbours during such trying times. The swift response from Trinidad and Tobago as well as Barbados was a good reminder that we are in many ways one people.
We live in a region prone to hurricanes for half of the year – June to November – and can be affected by a range of other natural disasters, such as earthquakes, flash flooding, landslides and other impacts that can result from climate change. Many other potential disasters are also possible, including fires and oil and chemical spills.
Individuals therefore need to know what to do during a flood, hurricane or fire; how to disaster-proof homes; how to create an emergency plan; the requirements of a disaster supplies kit; and, equally important, the dos and don’ts following any disaster.
These issues cannot be the preserve of a few public officials or non-governmental organizations but must involve the businesses sector, churches and communities. Broad awareness of and input into national policies relating to natural and man-made disasters are critical to effective disaster prevention and control systems. A range of entities from general insurance companies to housing and property developers must play greater roles if we are to better mitigate risk.
The Department of Emergency Management tends to gain prominence during the hurricane season and thanks to the work of a few active District Emergency Organizations and the Roving Response Team, we have a structure in place to respond to emergencies. But antecedents suggest the need for a more wide-ranging framework.
This recent destructive disaster gives us the chance to learn some important lessons. It underscores the necessity of being prepared for disasters of all kinds – as much as we can be. Despite the hand of God, there are things that we must do to reduce death and destruction from such occurrences.