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We need to be prepared

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25.FEB.11

If ever the cricketers of New Zealand needed a further incentive to try to win the World Cup, the devastation by the earthquake which hit that country on Sunday last would have provided it. The Christchurch offices of Cricket New Zealand was among the hundreds of buildings wrecked by the earthquake, the second one to hit New Zealand in five months.{{more}}

New Zealand lies on the dangerous perimeter of the Pacific, prone to earthquake and volcanic activity that it has been named the “ring of fire”. This 25,000-mile (40,000 kilometres,) horseshoe-shaped hotbed of activity hosts some 452 volcanoes, 90% of the world’s total, and fully 75% of the active volcanoes spread around the globe. It runs right up the western Pacific through such disaster-prone areas as Indonesia and the Phillipines, Japan and then down the eastern Pacific, along the western coast of North and South America. Each year you can be sure to hear of some volcano erupting or earthquake ripping apart some country in this “ring”.

Now connecting with that infamous ring is an area of structural instability running through the Caribbean called the Caribbean Plate. On this plate lie 17 active volcanoes, our own La Soufrière among them. That instability is a major cause of earthquakes, the most recent one to cause serious damage being Haiti’s encounter with the horror of January 2010. Interestingly, scientists have been warning Caribbean people to expect a major earthquake in the not-too-distant future.

New Zealand’s fate is, therefore, a sober reminder of what can happen to us at any moment. An earthquake is not a hurricane, the path of which one can track and have time to batten down or go to shelters. Like a cobra, it strikes swiftly, and oftentimes with deadly force. The consequences can be horrific. It means that the admonishments of the scientists cannot be taken lightly.

It is, therefore, imperative that we intensify our programmes for disaster preparedness and mitigation. Our encounter with Hurricane Tomas last year was a rude reminder of the danger that lurks in our region. Hurricanes, storms and floods may be the most prevalent, but we have to contend with volcanoes and earthquakes, in addition. There is not sufficient public awareness of our vulnerability which leads to attitudes of complaceny and couldn’t-care-lessness.

NEMO, working through as many social, economic, cultural, sporting and religious organisations as possible, must step up its public awareness outreach. We have to get every citizen, of all ages, aware of the inherent danger and knowing what to do, before, during and after a disaster. There is an excellent clip on CARIBVISION which illustrates what to do if an earthquake should occur. We should make greater use of that, and similar forms of public awareness. Our most vulnerable institutions-schools, hospitals etc. must be given special attention. An earthquake during school hours can be a real nightmare for us all.

The destruction of Christchurch is another reminder that we no longer have the luxury of procrastination. We must act now.

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