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Picking up the pieces after Sandy

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Fri, Nov 2, 2012

SEARCHLIGHT and, we are sure, the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, commiserate with the people of the United States of America,{{more}} those on the east coast in particular, in their hours of distress following the devastation by Hurricane Sandy. As a people who have perennially suffered from tropical storm damage, we understand the suffering and inconvenience being experienced in this heavily populated area, and are with them in solidarity.

The USA is not the only country affected for, true to form, our Caribbean sister nations – Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and, yes, Haiti again, have also been severely affected. Our thoughts and prayers are with our Caribbean brethren and we should all do what we can to assist them.

The damage in the USA has been compounded by a major snowstorm travelling east and meeting up with Sandy in states like West Virginia. Winter storm and tropical storm coinciding? It sounds like fiction but it is a chilling reality, a grim reminder of the global threat of climate change. Ironically, some of the biggest sceptics on climate change are in powerful positions in the American power structure, using their power and influence to block global agreements on combating the effects of climate change and on measures to preserve the environment. The events of this week represent a wake up call to them.

The continued denial of the threat of climate change has consequences not only for the USA, but moreso for people in very vulnerable regions like the Caribbean. It is a threat that we can ignore only at our own peril.

Naturally the effects of the storm will have some bearing on next week’s Presidential and Congressional elections in the USA. Natural disasters have their own way of exerting some influence, of one kind or another, whether physical, social, or political on the outcome of elections. Besides the obvious physical challenges, it provides those in office with an extra lever for action. How they utilize it often has bearing on the result. Just think of our own elections in 1979 and more recently 2010, when incumbent administrations, apparently in difficult positions politically, were able to use responses to, the eruption of La Soufriere and Hurricane Tomas respectively, to their advantage in securing a new term, in elections which followed.

President Obama may well be the beneficiary of these “politics of disaster management”. Already he has been getting high praise for his response to the crisis and management of it. In particular, a most interesting development has taken place in one of the hardest hit areas, the state of New Jersey. This state is governed by a Republican, Chris Christie, a noted critic of Obama, who delivered the keynote address at the Republican Convention which nominated presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

But both Obama and Christie have placed the interests of the people of that state before all else, and have engaged in a new spirit of cooperation to the good of the affected people. Each has publicly praised the other, much to the chagrin of some of the Republican hard-liners. It is a development which holds some hope for the future of the USA, for the politics of division has severely hampered the progress of the country. A new spirit of cooperation is required to get the country out of the deep crisis. President Obama and Governor Christie may well turn out to be trailblazers in this regard.

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