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From one season to another

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The careful planning, the frenetic organizing, and the reportedly efficient execution of the carnival celebrations for the year 2006 are now all finally over. Yes, carnival season 2K6 is now history. But while all the planning, organizing and executing were taking place for our premier cultural festival season, another season sneaked in on us. The 2006 Hurricane Season.

Just about six weeks before the Carnival Season culminated with our colourful Mardi Gras, the dreaded six-month hurricane season arrived, bringing with it several torrential showers and quite a few tropical waves so far, one of which caused some damage to over a dozen houses, particularly on the Leeward side of mainland, St. Vincent.{{more}}

For the carnival celebrations there were a lot of preparations and spending, not only at the institutional level, but also at the individual level. Several persons at the lower income levels must have even sacrificed some of their creature comforts so as to be able to find the wherewithal to finance the cost of their carnival costumes. So committed were these persons to their involvement in the festival, that they were prepared to make personal sacrifices. But now that we are faced with a more serious threat where property, limb and even loss of life could be involved, one must ask the question as to how prepared are we on the individual level, to make similar sacrifices to protect ourselves, our loved ones as well as our earthly possessions, against the forces of the elements over the next four or five months, until the hurricane season ends.

No one can accuse the Government of not doing its part in putting in the necessary institutional infrastructure, to ensure that should a hurricane strike us in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Government would be prepared to deal with any discomforts it may cause the population and particularly those persons at the lower end of the economic scale. For example, a National Emergency Committee headed by the Prime Minister and comprising representatives of most of the Government Departments, the private sector organizations, and persons best able to contribute to the relief effort, has been set up as before, and its personnel promulgamated for public knowledge. A state-of-the-art National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) has been built and suitably equipped and staffed to lead the charge in bringing about relief to affected persons. So, too, has been the erection of a warehouse at Campden Park where relief supplies are stored for easy and immediate access.

One disturbing aspect of the relief effort, however, appears to be the “freeness mentality” of many of our citizens who seem to believe that in the event of damage to or destruction of their property, the Government must either compensate them fully for any damage caused by the passage of a weather system, or replace their homes free of cost, with no effort whatever on their part. Successive Governments of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have always moved to assist the poor, the needy and the dispossessed. But certain persons who could afford to repair or even replace their damaged property refuse to do so and try to hold the Government to ransom with very negative statements especially in the press and on the electronic media.

Also disturbing is the indifferent attitude displayed by some persons because over the years, despite the forecast by our meteorologists of impending or approaching storms or hurricanes, mercifully, none materialized. Therefore they have bluntly refused, in many cases, to take any precautions whatever to make pre-storm preparations like storing water, stocking non-perishable foods or in trying to secure their properties from damage or destruction. Many of these persons have even been heard to make the very inane or even blasphemous statement that “God is a Vincentian” and so we would be saved from nature’s wrath. We need to take a much more serious approach to disaster preparedness and hazard mitigation at the individual level, so as to ease the suffering on ourselves and our families, and to reduce the financial burden on the Government, should a serious disaster occur during this and every forthcoming hurricane season.

But there are other institutions which could make a significant contribution to ease the financial burdens on those who may be adversely affected by the passage of a destructive storm. The local Insurance Companies are in a good position to assist here, but they must begin to think “outside the box”. For despite the fact that the numerous owners of substantial homes who may be able to pay the premiums for house insurance, there are also thousands of homeowners from the lower and lowest income brackets who will have severe difficulty in meeting house insurance premiums at current commercial rates.

Can our Insurance Companies not step up to the ‘batting crease’ and try to devise a “group-type” form of property insurance specially crafted for the poor, and which could significantly reduce house insurance premiums, thus enabling the lower income earners to be able to afford their premiums? Food for thought, maybe?

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