Our unpreparedness for storms

Todays WomanA few things are in my mind space this week. Tropical Storm Matthew spared Barbados last week and this was both a blessing and curse. It was a blessing because our Island was not in a position to stave off a hit from a storm. We were not ready from a number of angles.

Barbadians have been hard pressed to meet monthly commitments over the last few years. Although many may have found an extra twenty or thirty dollars to buy a few tins of sardines and corned beef, the reality is that several Barbadians did not have the required funds to undertake meaningful storm preparations.

There was no disposable income for Barbadians to bring carpenters and other handymen to check roofs and ensure that houses were generally sound. Drains could not be cleared and bush in back yards could not be cut. Our readiness as householders was on a superficial level.

The readiness at the country level was no more coordinated. The entire island is overgrown with bush and several drains are blocked with debris and overgrown shrubbery. Had there been serious rainfall, there would have been significant fall out in several areas across Barbados.

The curse is that Barbadians are again left with a sense of entitlement and false assurance that nothing will ever affect this island. The time from the last major hurricane event gets wider and there is a growing number of Barbadians who do not understand the severity of weather systems or the danger that they can cause.

We have also found some loopholes in our response management which we must pay attention to. Business people in Barbados seem unclear about what are categorized as essential services and when these businesses should reopen or close once a system is pending or affecting
the island.

Some Government ministers, including the Attorney General, suggest that the way to solve these issues is by passing stringent legislation. I seem to agree with the approach of former Attorney General, Dale Marshall, that legislation alone will not solve the problem.

I think the fallout which we are facing in how people respond to storm warnings has become cultural. Since a warning has not resulted in any real disaster over the last few years, Barbadians have very little living understanding of possible dangers. We need to spend time and energy in re-educating Barbadians about hurricane preparedness, what to do in a national shutdown, and how the country will be opened back up.

We also need a number of consultations with the business sector of Barbados so that their concerns and considerations are brought to the table.  To my mind, in a situation where the airport is closed, there is no explanation of why a supermarket or restaurant should be open, but dialogue is still necessary.

Another area which I believe we need to pay serious attention to is the state of our schools which are used as hurricane shelters. The school plant across Barbados is in various stages of disrepair. Several of the bathrooms at the various schools have issues with fixtures.  Many of the schools also flood in areas during heavy rain.

In a situation where a storm or hurricane causes severe displacement, these shelters would become uncomfortable in a short space of time.  Some of them also do not have working water tanks and other issues which would make their prolonged use difficult.  Moving forward, to my mind, if we are serious about preparedness, all these are areas to be improved.

One critical entity which I certainly worried about in terms of its ability to cope with a storm is the healthcare sector, with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) as the emergency care facility.  The hospital continues to have serious shortage issues on a daily basis, and any further pressure on its services would have been a breaking point.

I visited accident and emergency at the QEH recently with a patient who suspected he had suffered a stroke. The patient received a drip sitting down in a hard chair. There were no beds available at the time.

After being under care for nine hours, the patient was discharged with a five day supply of medication and a referral to a polyclinic. The next available date that the patient was given to see a doctor is in February, 2017. The patient was left with his five day supply of meds and an appointment for over five months away.

The healthcare system in Barbados is overburdened at every turn.  Many people who need care are not receiving it and they do not have the financial means
to pay for it. There seems to be a disconnect between the hospital and the polyclinics where they refer people to. The medical records at both the QEH
and the polyclinics are still stored in hardcopy and there seems to be little information sharing.

Patient care is at an all-time low.  People are falling through the cracks. We should be grateful that Matthew spared us – not grateful, though, in that Christian mould that makes us feel better than our Caribbean neighbours or more righteous.

We should really thank our lucky stars that Matthew largely bypassed us and resolve to get better at many things.

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.
Email mhindslayne@gmail.com)

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