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Life after disaster

Elections, necessary as they are in our part of the world, can be all consuming for the civic minded citizen, as well as the office seeker. This was certainly the case with many Americans for several weeks leading up to Tuesdays presidential election.

It is also currently the case with many Barbadians as we prepare for general elections. But just as Americans have come quickly to realise that the rest of life does not wait for the outcome of polling, the average Barbadian must be painfully aware that campaigning does not dull the impact of the challenges we face.

Unfortunately, as the tens of thousands of people in New York and the rest of the north east of the US are now feeling intimately, Mother Nature does not set her agenda on the wishes of humans, or even if she has recently made her presence felt.

In the face of loss and despair, many ordinary people in the US are now struggling to cope with snow and bitter cold, where there is no electricity or gas and in many cases where their homes have been destroyed or significantly exposed by superstorm Sandy.

This double whammy of tropical storm, followed by snow storm, ought to nudge our thought process in Barbados when it comes to dealing with our own weather systems. Even if our citizens have not paid a lot of attention to the need for preparation, no one can justly accuse our authorities of not publicising critical information on the subject.

A major part of our vulnerability, it would appear, though stems from not being properly prepared nationally for all that may result after the disaster. Most would know where the nearest hurricane shelters are located, and have some sense of if our homes will stand up to high winds and such matters.

However, we have every reason to believe that very little of our preparation, both at the individual and national level, has to do with coping after the system has passed, particularly if we are without our accustomed comforts for three or four weeks.

Our thinking seems to be that “all clear” means all is well. It only means that the initial source of our problems has moved on. It is not hard to conclude too that our challenges are mental as well as physical.

We do not believe our planners would have deliberately set out to expose our people to danger, but that does not change the fact that the District “E” Police Station is in a flood plain, and is also vulnerable to storm surges from the sea; that personnel in the Weston Fire Station are more exposed to flooding and storm surges than many of the residents they would be called on to protect; that the Holetown Police Station is one of the most vulnerable on the island.

When we look at what Sandy has done to the US east coast, ought it not to tell us that hard times or not we must give priority to the construction of a purpose built home for the Department of Emergency Management? Their current accommodation in a combination warehouse/office environment does not suggest they may not have to be on the priority rescue list depending on the type of disaster the island faces.

New York, with all its state resources, backed up by the might of the federal treasury, is still struggling to return to normal more than a week after Sandy struck. How much more vulnerable would we be with a much more exposed population, strained Treasury and an emergency response system that itself is characterised by major systemic weaknesses.

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