Lessons from Dorian
Video clippings and reports of what appears to be the virtual destruction of the Abaco Cays and to a lesser extent Grand Bahama in the Bahamas were painful to look at and listen to. Coming after the onslaught by Maria and Irma last year, the vulnerability of our countries must always guide our thinking. All our talk about development, whether centred around agriculture or tourism, will become idle talk if we do not give priority to issues relating to climate change, sustainable development, and resilience. We have certainly to begin to re-examine our developmental priorities. As I write the official count of those killed is 40, but the full recovery of bodies is still in its infant stage and the likelihood is that deaths will run into the thousands. It is one thing to think of the deaths and suffering which is what we have first to confront, but the issue of the sustainability of our economies must be foremost in our minds. These matters must be part of public discussion and inform the plans of government.
When we are faced with destruction from hurricanes, we at first become alarmed and then shift to other priorities until the next hurricane season approaches. We then hear a lot of talk about hurricane shelters and pleas for citizens and residents to be prepared and to follow releases by the disaster agencies. But issues related to hurricanes should be a year-round exercise. What is happening with building codes? Are these in place? Why is there not more discussion about them? As I travel from Cane Garden to Kingstown, I am quite alarmed by a building that is constantly being added to. I believe it is a factory for the manufacture of pastas and also a residence. As I look at it, I always feel that it is a disaster waiting to happen, storm or no storm. Does Physical Planning monitor these additions? Do they give permission for these structures?
I note that the International Association of Universities has selected the UWI “as its global leader in the mobilisation of research and advocacy for the achievement of a climate smart work, in recognition of the University’s decades of world-class research on climate change and sustainable development”. The Vice Chancellor’s report to Council last year also indicated that an Institute for Sustainable Development was in place and a Resilience Working group was to follow. There was the announcement too that A Global Centre for Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management was to have been established this year, also at Mona, with one of its objectives being to assist vulnerable states with quick recovery from natural disasters. Some things are obviously happening, but there isn’t a lot of information about them. How do these initiatives impact on government’s planning? The point I wish to emphasize, particularly with regard to hurricanes, is that the surrounding issues must impact on all our development plans and be part of serious public discussion.
CARICOM’s quick response has to be applauded. The visit of the Prime Ministers of St. Lucia and Barbados, along with representatives of key regional institutions, must have sent a message, for this demonstrates the importance of CARICOM. The Bahamas, although a part of CARICOM, had long signalled that it had no intention of joining the CSME. Will there be some rethinking about this? I believe I heard that Guyana was willing to accept a number of those dislocated. This is significant, especially with the news that some persons who were evacuated on a boat going to the US were denied entry. Oh, What humanitarian concern! Let us hope we get out of our total concentration on putting in place projects geared solely for election purposes and recognise that there is life beyond elections.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian