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Our safety and security at risk

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We comment here today on two, apparently unrelated issues, save that the connection between them involves safety and security at both a personal as well as a collective level. We refer to the risks and vulnerability of our people to natural and human disasters.

In the case of natural disasters, this week marked the commencement of the official hurricane season in the Caribbean. It was ushered in with the usual predictions from weather scientists about what to expect for the season,{{more}}the number and strength of likely storms and hurricanes, and advice as to our preparation to deal with possible calamity.

One has to be careful though, about our interpretation of these predictions, because while one may talk of a “less than average” likelihood of storms, we must never lose sight of the fact that it only takes one strong storm or hurricane to cause death and destruction. We in SVG have been somewhat luckier than some of our neighbours in escaping the full brunt of a major hurricane, but our experience over the last few years would remind us what damage can be caused by systems far weaker than a major hurricane. We have every reason to be on our guard.

This year, the double impact of climate change and what is called the “El Nino factor” seem to have introduced a new element into the hurricane season equation. That element is that we have had a late dry season and the start of the hurricane season, which typically coincides with the rainy season, this year meets us still in the dry season with predictions for an extended one at that.

So, not only are our slopes and hillsides more exposed and vulnerable, but our water supply is depleting. What happens should a major storm damage our water supply facilities when we are this vulnerable? It makes it all the more imperative for us to pay serious attention and beef up our levels of preparedness.

The human element was brought into focus last Sunday night when a packed minibus ran off the road in the Ratho Mill area. This is less than five months since the tragic accident in the Rock Gutter area in North Windward which took the lives of seven school children.

The privately-owned minibus service is the lifeline of our public transportation system and performs a most valuable public service. But its very loosely organised nature is fraught with many dangers, placing the safety of passengers at potential risk. We do not have any statistics to justify allegations that minibuses are more prone to accidents, nor that their drivers any less safety-conscious than any other category of driver, but because they transport large groups of people, there is cause for concern about safety standards.

Perhaps it is time both to rigorously enforce standards governing public transportation, as well as to review, and strengthen them where necessary. The process of granting licences to drive public transport vehicles certainly needs scrutiny. Too many drivers and operators seem unable to make the distinction between driving paid passengers and driving one’s private vehicle. Training and heightening awareness of public responsibility would seem to be an obvious area.

Both the hurricane and Carnival seasons bring with them inherent risks. We must move resolutely in the direction of mitigation.

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