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EDITORIAL: Let’s be ready for any disaster

Barbados Nation

EDITORIAL: Let’s be ready for  any disaster

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IN LESS THAN two months, the Atlantic hurricane season will begin. No one can accurately predict what it will offer; those living within its path can only expect the worst and hope for the best. The entire Caribbean chain which is exposed needs to be better prepared for any eventuality.

The issue of preparation also applies to the next big disaster which could be awaiting us in Barbados or our neighbours, whether floods, chemical or gas leaks, oil spills, earthquakes or even a tsunami. Are we ready and prepared for any such eventuality?

The reality is that we must stop looking to the United States, Canada, Britain and other rich nations to be our salvation in times of disaster. So while the US Southern Command, which has planned major cuts, has the means to respond to any major disaster in this region, the reality is that we must show a greater willingness to do more for ourselves, long before the times of peril. We need to appreciate that the Caribbean simply does not rank too high on Washington’s agenda.

That means member nations must give the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) greater support, particularly financial. It is to be regretted that some countries have not been paying their dues.

At the local level, the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) and its equivalents across the region must also be well supported.

Just as important, we need volunteers in an active equivalent of the Neighbourhood Watch concept promoted by police, to be equipped to respond to the next big disaster.

The DEM and the Barbados Defence Force must implement the strategic goal of training community emergency response teams not only for every neighbourhood but all major employment centres.

We need to have certain safety fundamentals in place long before we think of asking or expecting external assistance. Perhaps before the start of the hurricane season an audit ought to be done to see how many houses are built or retrofitted to hurricane proof standards and how many householders know basic first-aid, rescue and/or firefighting techniques.

We also need to test the volunteers to determine what skills are most critical and what factors can stymie their effectiveness following a natural or man-made disaster and how best to apply these skills primarily within the community. It is a test to benefit every individual and corporate citizen.

Training will take money, regardless of who undertakes it. When the entire community is involved there is a great level of appreciation and it may be easier to find the funding even in difficult economic times. We need to become activists in disaster mitigation at the community level and promote the concept of self-help. We must not be seen as simply reaching out for alms.