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These are difficult times indeed!


What a time! When it is not one thing, it’s another. We were just trying to come to grips with the recent spate of murders, when we had to contend with trough systems that seemed to have come with a vengeance.

The last one unleashed its venom on the north of the country. The way persons mobilized themselves over the past week to assist those who were affected gives us a glimpse of what St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) used to be and the spirit of community that used to exist, SVG being, of course, one big community. It is true that disasters often bring out the best in us, but must we await disasters to dig deep into our inner selves? Much as we appreciate a glimpse of what we can be, this is not the issue now.{{more}} Since 2013 we seem to be exposed annually to the devastating effects of heavy rains associated with troughs or tropical depressions. One reaction that particularly interested me was the view that all of this is the result of climate change. Having made that point, the conclusion this was leading to was that that issue was much broader than us and therefore beyond our control as an individual country. Climate change is indeed a reality and a fearsome one at that, but we must first ask ourselves why over those years we seem to be getting the worst of the fallout?

Even without making comparisons with our neighbours, it is clear to me why we find ourselves every year trying to mobilize funds for rebuilding roads, bridges, homes and infrastructure generally. Climate change, we must remember, also affects our neighbours and others in the region and elsewhere. Not too long ago when we escaped the ravages of storms or hurricanes, we used to say that God was a Vincentian! This meant in our minds that we had nothing to worry about. But we are facing a new reality. We should start by taking stock of ourselves. Some things just keep replicating themselves. Inevitably there are tree trunks, old fridges and other material that block the flow of the water, forcing the rivers to overflow their banks and to find other routes to escape. We bear responsibility for this, because we toss everything we do not want into the drains and rivers. We cut trees in the mountains and these inevitably find their way downstream. We still toss things out of vehicles. This is our pattern.

Quite often we hear people say that they have lived where they are for a long time and never experienced anything like this. But these are different times with different challenges to our environment. Construction is going on all around and sometimes no provision is made for disposing of waste water. Some of us build in what had been parts of rivers that no longer run as they used to. When there is obstruction to the flow of the water, the rivers then reclaim their natural courses, which are often known only by older persons in the community. We are constructing houses on traditional agricultural land, with its terracing and other means of preserving the soil, but pay little attention to these. Our concern should not only be with where we build homes, but how these are constructed. It appears to me that buildings are constructed with little regulation from Physical Planning. I am assuming that it is part of their mandate, but I might very well be mistaken. The more this happens, the more the land is subjected to land slippage, with dire consequences for buildings and roads in the area. I am, of course, speaking as a layman!

But what’s new? This is really part of irresponsible behaviour that has taken hold of our country and is associated with so many aspects of our lives. Do we really see any connection between our actions and these disasters that are becoming so much a part of the Vincentian annual calendar? Should we simply be depending on the gratitude of our people in the diaspora and Caribbean people everywhere to come to our assistance? Often disasters affect more seriously those who are most vulnerable in the society. We help them to rebuild their homes and provide them with clothing, foodstuff and other things and then the story ends, only to repeat itself with someone else.

It is clear to me, too, that we need to look carefully at our crippling physical infrastructure. The exposing and uprooting of coffins and remains of the dead by the flow of water is another dimension that appears to be a new phenomenon. I have heard calls not to eat tri tri from some areas. Is there a problem with fish? Have we investigated if these remains have gotten into the rivers and what are the likely consequences? Is there a possible health hazard? Let us be reassured about these. Often when one is critical of anything in this country, the response from some is that you are blaming government. My focus is on us. We seem to think that a lot of this is outside our domain. We must wake up and realize that we are part of the problem and therefore ought to be part of the solution.