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Hurricanes: collective responsibility, shared effort

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On the heels of the devastation in Dominica and ongoing destruction in neighbouring islands, we need to continue the dialogue about hurricanes and their impact on all aspects of our lives.This is especially important in light of the frequency with which they keep occurring these days, and, moreso, the intensity with which they hit us.

Whatever the deniers may chose to say, there is now unmistakeable evidence that these factors are being influenced by climate change and that this phenomenon is now a major factor which must be considered in all our environmental, economic and social plans. It means that climate change must be factored in when drawing up all development plans.

This calls for a more scientific approach from us all. Yet, how many times if a hurricane or storm passes us by, in relative safety, do we utter the statement, that SVG is truly “blessed”? It is one thing to thank the Almighty for our “safety”, but when we advance the view that we, as distinct from our neighbours, are particularly “blessed”, what are we saying?

The reality is that we are no more “blessed” than any of our neighbours; what escapes us affects some other and vice versa. It is this mistaken reasoning which leads us to the conclusion that when Haiti, for instance, suffers disaster after disaster, that it is “punishment” for its “sins” (voodoo, according to some). Some are “blessed” and others “cursed” is the false conclusion.

Another aspect of the hurricane scenario is the after-storm situation, especially in the case of substantial damage. Quite naturally, those most affected, the poorest and most vulnerable in particular, are in dire need of assistance and support. Citizens, charitable organizations and individuals and external governments and agencies play their part, but the role of the central government is most critical.

This is where we often get confused and feed on unrealistic expectations. A natural disaster is, in the words of insurance companies and others in the business world, an “act of God”.  We look to governments for support and assistance in rebuilding our lives, but we must be careful about our demands, and as well, be quite clear that we, too, bear responsibility for our recovery. We, too, must play our part as best we could, and so contribute to the relief effort.

Hurricanes and other natural disasters do not only affect us personally; they have a huge impact on all aspects of our lives, including, crucially, our ability to recover. It is not only the particularly affected country which suffers. Take our unique case of the Eastern Caribbean islands. We share a political, economic and trading space in the OECS and its Single Market and even a common currency, the Eastern Caribbean dollar.

So, SVG may escape a storm or hurricane, but if there is significant damage to one or more of the OECS states, it affects our collective ability to survive, influences the rate and levels of economic activity in the region, and naturally the capacity to recover. “Blessed” or not, we all are affected.

To give another example, take our flagship airline LIAT, our aerial lifeline in the eastern Caribbean. That airline may survive a storm with all its assets intact, but there is more to it. Even when a storm does not hit directly or inflict large-scale destruction, LIAT, out of an abundance of caution and safety of passengers and crew, has, time and again to cancel many flights. This adds to the losses it already has, but few take that into consideration. Our selfish response is “get me to my next destination, as soon as you can”.

So, there is a multiplicity of ways in which we all get affected, and while each sufferer has his/her own problems, we all share collective responsibility for helping to get us out of the predicament. That is why preparedness, so as to minimize the damage and thus the cost of relief and recovery, is so important. Just as we expect governments and others to come to our rescue, so too, we must identify in what way we all can help and do so as one.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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