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Refocusing our conversation


The disasters which have recently hit the region will be the main talking point for some time, these having forced their way fully into our consciousness.The disasters which have recently hit the region will be the main talking point for some time, these having forced their way fully into our consciousness. They bring out much more clearly the nature and functioning of Caribbean societies. How do we prepare for such catastrophes; how do we cope with immediate relief and importantly, long-term sustainability? How would SVG have coped? Our landscape is like Dominica. Unlike or perhaps even more than Dominica, we like to build on top of hills. In fact, when one sees a new house being built, the first question that comes to mind is, how do they get up there? Like Dominica, some of our villages can easily be cut off. At least in the coastal areas we might be able to use boats, but this might not be possible in the immediate aftermath, when the sea will be extremely rough.

We hear about the disorder in some countries with people storming ships bringing in much needed relief and with general and violent looting. I often say that we in SVG are a disorderly bunch. Although it is said that a crisis brings out the best in us, this is not always or necessarily so. When we examine what is going on in affected areas, some of it is obviously driven by need. Some people, because of where they live, speak of not having food or water. But the situation also provides room for the unruly. It is one thing to steal food or water, but when your emphasis is on flat screen TVs and electronic equipment, then that is a horse of a different colour. Seven murders over the past week, as I write! Imagine the crime and chaos post hurricane!

Shortly, we begin celebrating our 38th Independence anniversary. We should perhaps scale back and refocus our activities. Think of what independence means to Dominica! Maybe our focus should be on ‘One Caribbean’. Our dependence on each other and on the rest of the world is demonstrated much more clearly than ever before. Dominica attracted tourists by selling itself as the nature island. It will be long before this can again become the focus. Dominica had sent supplies to Tortola and Barbuda, but then found itself in desperate need. Would all of this put on the back burner the issue of independence for the remaining colonies in the Caribbean?

Urgent immediate relief will be put in place, though not as urgently as needed, since logistics would determine the scale and timeliness. But what next? Rebuilding infrastructure and restoring utilities are immediate agenda items and hopefully assistance would be provided and be regarded as responses to the hurricane. But what of sustainability? This is a key agenda item, for all our countries are facing something that might become an annual feature. There is an external dimension that relates to the policies of the so-called developed countries and the international financial institutions that are there to serve them, often at our expense. This is a theme that the Antiguan and Dominican prime ministers highlighted at the UN, but we must send a united message, look at different strategies and build more strategic partnerships, and not wait for disasters to hammer this home.

Our parliaments should not be forums simply for political picong, campaigning and naked propaganda.  Our budget debates must be refocused and give our people an understanding of the context in which we operate. We must rethink our priorities and how we use our slender resources. This involves utilizing people in positions based on their skills, experience, and commitment and not on their political colours. It can never be business as usual again. Take warning; there is serious work to be done!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian