It is still a few months away from the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, but with or without Professor William Gray’s predictions this season will be like no other.
Last year, Gray was partly correct in his forecast where these islands were concerned. There were rather fewer big storms, but Hurricane Tomas which came out of nowhere and which unleashed its fury mainly in the Windwards and Barbados was no laughing matter.
These islands, especially St Lucia, must be still counting the cost to its infrastructure and agriculture belt, which took a severe beating. While Barbados, unaccustomed as that island is to storms, must be looking to put disaster-mitigating measures in place where previously there might have been none.
As recent as the memories are of the region’s brush with Hurricane Earl, which left Antigua & Barbuda very wet and Hurricane Tomas, however, what will not be uppermost in the minds of residents in these parts will be the horrific scenes of devastation caused by the March 11 earthquake in Japan and the January 12 earthquake in Haiti.
Apart from being acts of nature, earthquakes and hurricanes have one thing in common: they cause loss of life and damage to property. They expose our vulnerability to the elements and our utter hopelessness at their onslaught.
We have been unable to prevent either. Our only recourse is preparation in the form of disaster mitigation and disaster management. There is more than a shade of difference between the two.
In recent times the emphasis has been on disaster management which has been described as the process of addressing an event that has the potential to seriously disrupt the social fabric of the community. It is further viewed as a government approach to using community resources to fight the effects of an event.
The umbrella organisation charged with both disaster management and mitigation in the region is CDEMA. Among its functions are mitigating or eliminating, as far as practicable, the immediate consequences of disaster in participating countries.
As laudable as this may sound, we are all aware that after a disaster the overriding need is money. It buys medical supplies, water and food. It pays aid workers and it is the only commodity that can make one whole after the loss of property.
In 2007, in an effort which has received very little acclaim, 16 governments in the region banded to implement The Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility. Funding for the initial capitalisation of the entity, paradoxically was obtained from Japan with help from the Irish, Canadian, UK and French governments. Our own Caribbean Development Bank has also assisted.
This is probably the wisest move the islands could have made as part of its disaster management plan. Soon after Hurricane Tomas, Barbados, St Vincent and St Lucia received sizeable sums to go towards their rebuilding efforts.
Soon after the hurricane, it also became clear that the pool from which the island drew needed to be larger. In this regard, the CCRIF board said the islands are now faced with the decision regarding their level of coverage, which is renewed each year on June 1.
Despite the current economic challenges facing the territory, the organisation is recommending that each country “Finds solutions that would enable its members to continue to pursue diversified and dynamic risk management policies.”
The facility supervisor noted there is a strong case to be made to the international community to assist CCRIF member countries as well as potential new members in ‘upscaling’ the role that risk transfer plays in post disaster financing.
And to that we can only say amen. For each time our country falls victim to the destructive forces of nature, we go cap in hand to the international community. And if, God forbid, the level of assistance required ever extends to anything that that country needs, we will be more than happy that the CCRIF is there to fall back on.
In the meantime, there are myriad of problems which need fixing ahead of the hurricane season. A few weeks ago, the region carried out a tsunami simulation exercise to test our preparedness for such an eventuality. The official assessment of the country’s readiness was an embarrassment to put it mildly.
Perhaps we can fall back on the explanation that this was the first of its kind and that the kinks were yet to be identified and at the next dress rehearsal all will be straightened out.
We have no such excuses for our hurricane preparedness. We have had the production with the full cast many times over and we ought to know fully well what to expect when the winds begin to howl moving everything in their path and the rains sweep all before them.
The fact is only through preparation can we hope to even partially counteract the damage and possibly minimise the risks of natural disaster.