We're not prepared
It is true that Hurricane Sandy, which caused much destruction in Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas, and is now set to unleash her fury on the United States east coast, was never a threat to Barbados – but there is no reason why her journey across the region should not cause us to sit up and take note.
We have been lucky for many years here in Barbados. We have had quite a few brushes with some mighty, and not so mighty, weather systems but we have not had a direct hit for more than half a century.
Jamaica on the other hand, has not been as fortunate, taking a pounding year after year. We are in no doubt that every new brush with such horrible weather system sharpens their warning and response mechanisms, just as every escape has made us more complacent.
When, however, we look at the scale of destruction caused by Sandy in Jamaica, at the time a Category 1 hurricane, notwithstanding the fact that the eye of the system passed directly over the island, we should ask ourselves what would have been our situation today had it been Barbados.
We can’t speak for the experts at the Meteorological Department, the Department of Emergency Management or any such agency, but we can say again that based on what we have seen in the past, Barbados is not even close to ready for a tropical storm – far less a system of the scale of Sandy. God help us if we are confronted with something of a Category 3 or Category 4 magnitude!
As we have said before, the appropriate agency in Barbados needs to carry out a full analysis of our housing stock to determine just how many properties can withstand the various levels of storm we may face. This will serve to inform property owners of their risk, disaster response personnel of the level of preparation they have to undertake to minimise loss of life during a hurricane, and provide Government with some picture of the job they will face once the system moves on.
We believe this is even more critical today as the country faces strained economic circumstances, especially since many of the sources of assistance in such an eventuality are themselves stretched to the limit dealing with their own economies.
If there is anyone who believes we are crying wolf, they only need to consider that there are properties in that two years on are still to be repair following the passage of Tomas, which at the time was a mere tropical storm.
Perhaps a clearer picture of the extent of our vulnerability might compel us at the national level to have a discussion on whether we ought to establish some arm of Government that would be responsible for securing insurance for every home that is not now covered for hurricane damage, particularly chattel houses.
Some may say that is not the role of Government and that taxpayers’ money should not be used to fund something that ought properly to be undertaken by the property owner. But when disaster strikes, the bill, either immediately or eventually, falls to the state and there is more than enough evidence to suggest it is far more cost effective to pay before the destruction than after.
Luck can only “protect” us for so long!