Columns

Bringing back light...at any cost?

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, November 02, 2012    

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"MAN A WRITE and God a rub out," our people say. To be more refined you can also choose "Man proposes, God disposes."

HOWEVER you say it, man is not in charge these days. Higher powers rule. A week or so ago, we went up against Sandy, the "crumoochin" tropical storm/hurricane which turned out to be a tyrant in disguise. Before the bout began, it seemed that we would win. Sandy was supposed to be just a little pyah-pyah breeze-blow, but now we know. Water more than our feeble power.

We can forgive Sandy for almost everything but the loss of electricity. If you're rich enough, you can bathe in bottled water; but rich or poor, there comes the realisation that lack of electricity is an equal-opportunity meltdown-maker. The JPSCo, already battle-scarred from unending differences of opinion with disgruntled customers, found itself further castigated as Public Enemy Number One, because it couldn't "tun up de light" fast enough.

Winsome Callum, the company's beleaguered communications officer, deserves a medal for keeping her cool and sticking to the message. She tried to get us to comprehend the enormity of the task of restoring downed power lines, when so much damage has been done to the environment, particularly in the eastern parishes. There, the restoration task is especially formidable. Some of us heard the message that it will take time to get back to normal, but we haven't bothered to listen. We've become a people of instant gratification. We want the light and we want it now. (Nuh mek mi haffe ask you again!)

Of course, there is nothing more depressing than darkness. Our heightened anxiety is quite understandable, considering "the pestilence that walketh by night" in our land. For this and other reasons, we're demanding immediate answers to the question, why is it taking so long for our lights to go on again? The company insists that the task is tougher than the public thinks. They say that the rate of progress is in proportion to the environmental damage, which has to be overcome, especially in the parishes of St Mary, St Thomas and Portland.

We haven't even given full thought to damage to property, especially agricultural holdings. Spare a thought for the decimated banana fields and the workers without work. The evidence is there for all to see. Power lines are at the bottom of ravines where machinery cannot go. It is left to human hands, which are often at risk and vulnerable to injury. In case you didn't notice, a JPSCo contractor was electrocuted in the course of doing his job on Tuesday.

QUITE UNEXPECTEDLY the minister with responsibility for energy "has thrown the JPSCo under the bus", as the saying goes, publicly castigating them for not having better restoration plans and more repair crews in the field. Why hasn't the company done so? Both they and the minister need to tell us. What would the company gain by not pursuing strategies for a speedy restoration? What do they stand to gain by deliberately leaving customers in the dark? We need information.

IN THE EASTERN SEABOARD OF THE US OF A where Sandy went to wreak much more havoc, we have the opportunity to compare how a no-power crisis is dealt with There as compared to Here. A family member of mine, resident in New Jersey, has been told not to expect any restoration of power supplies in her area before seven days after Sandy's assault. "But you're in America. Things are supposed to move fast-fast there," is our reaction. Apparently, it doesn't work like that. US-based electricity companies, we've learned, adhere to a strict formula which begins with assessment followed by strategic planning and then action. The first two are under way now. The action is yet to come. The dislocation is horrific.

Despite public inconvenience, the process follows a set course: "It is not done in a hopscotch way like you in Jamaica seem to do in response to public pressure. The US policy places much concern on the safety of the public and the workers. We have to learn patience." This is not easy for high-rise dwellers when there's no power to activate elevators in hospitals, homes or places of business where the climb up and down many flights of stairs in darkness can be lethal.

WE'VE BEEN SEEING, via the media, the extent of the flooding in Lower Manhattan, among other afflicted areas. There are stern warnings about venturing into water on the streets. No one has to be told more than once that this is like a minefield seeded with live wires. Members of the public know that when given the directive to "keep out", it is non-negotiable. The law stands firm to reinforce the order, just as it did for "the stupid and the selfish", so described by one public official, when they tried to disobey evacuation orders.

Tropical storms or hurricanes are not supposed to happen in a land where seasonal planning at this time of year is for snow and ice, not mad tropical storms. Sandy invaded and acted with senseless cruelty, including being the force behind a massive fire in Queens, another community where many of our people live. Things are very difficult all up and down the region, yet we hear no reports of panic and defiance of authority. What do they know that we don't? Why do they line up in an orderly manner to gain access to storm shelters and other relief facilities? Why do we find it hard to do so?

WE ARE TALKING HERE about the ungracious and arrogant attitude of some users of our local shelters and relief facilities. Who could believe the attitude of the woman who arrived at a shelter armed with her utensils and a personal cook, to reinforce her culinary preferences? "No box food" and "Where's the Pampers for the baby?" This has become a public joke, making her the TV sound byte of the week.

When we stop laughing, however, we might find it is not so funny after all. Able-bodied persons who are perfectly capable of helping themselves should not be facilitated to exploit facilities made available for those in genuine need. The integrity of our disaster relief programme must not be compromised. People who disapprove of the quality of the meals and the standard of the bedding should be encouraged to move and keep on moving.

The prime minister spoke out on Tuesday about ministering to the needy, not the greedy. About time. Without wishing to stifle freedom of speech, the media, especially the electronic arm, should recognise when they are being manipulated and give no refuge to the shameless and the greedy.

SAD, SAD, SAD: One Thursday morning, not so long ago. I had a lively encounter on a Hotline broadcast with a bright-eyed, very personable young woman who acquitted herself well as communications officer for the island's postal services. Little did I know that our first meeting would also be our last. Just over a week later, hers was the body found in bushes along the Port Royal Road. I had no knowledge of it and was actually commending her to the radio audience when the horrible news was confirmed.

Heartfelt condolences to her grieving family. God help us all.

gloudonb@yahoo.com

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