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Resilience in times of disaster

Resilience in times of disaster


SEARCHLIGHT wishes to offer our sincere compliments to the Government, the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) and all those involved in the construction of the NEMO satellite warehouses opened this week. An official ceremony was held at Sandy Bay on Tuesday to open the first one while a second will be opened today at Rose Hall.

These represent a new stage in our preparations to deal with any adverse effects of the many natural disasters to which we are so vulnerable. It is called resilience in modern jargon and indicates not just recovery but a wider concept of responding to such disasters in a more timely and holistic manner. It goes beyond just relief and indicates a new stage of involving the community, being conscious of the natural environment and lifting those affected to new levels of response.

The warehouses are a physical expression of this concept. They should be of substantial value in times of crisis, for whereas before, there was a mad post-disaster scramble to cope with the logistics of getting machinery and supplies to those who need them and to the locations where they could be of most benefit, at least some essentials will be available, ‘on the spot’ in affected areas.

We have had some bitter experiences on which we are now obviously drawing. In 1979, the year of the last major evacuation on a national level following the volcanic eruption of La Soufriere, it took a while, and quite a bit of suffering and inconvenience before the relief efforts became effective. And on many occasions, in the aftermath of storms and hurricanes, roads are blocked, and bridges and embankments collapse.

So we are learning and dealing with physical resource resilience. From all reports, the new warehouses are sturdy and secure – essential elements in their effectiveness. But there is another angle to which we need to pay attention. That relates to the human factor and our capacity for corruption, deception and preying on the vulnerable.

Natural disasters provide opportunities for predators of all types who take advantage of vulnerability, chaos and lack of organisation as well as the insecurity of the victims. The emergency response effort also sometimes proves to be a temptation that few so inclined, or those in desperate need, can ignore. Our history is one where such conditions have been exploited at both the official and unofficial levels for personal gain.

We must therefore draw on those experiences. It is one thing to have the material resources in place, quite another to ensure that human behaviour matches such excellent physical plans and preparations. Even recently, at the new Diagnostic Centre at Georgetown, we had reports of theft which greatly embarrassed the authorities.

Very often, it is people in a position to do so, including those with political connections who exploit such situations. Historically too, our governments have not been firm enough, either in prevention or prosecution to deal with such situations. We need to set examples now and the human behaviour and commitment must match those of our excellent physical preparations. A clear signal must be sent that corruption of any type, neglect, discrimination and waste, will not be tolerated.
Resilience must also embrace the human factor.