Sandy exposes our inherent failures and successes

James Moss-Solomon

Sunday, October 28, 2012    

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HURRICANE Sandy is approaching as I start to write this article. The light rain is slowly giving way to stronger showers, and the news of the upward progression to a Category one status is about two hours old; media coverage continues on CVM and TVJ and brings to mind how responsible their coverage has been.

The wide outreach throughout the country via committed reporters certainly has brought a more serious contemplation of the impending danger to those listening.

The ODPEM communication has been very clear and the only breakdown seems to be the downward dissemination of information to some shelters where only security guards who have not been properly briefed seem to be present. Yet other citizens are refusing to leave for shelters and the reluctance can be largely attributed to fears of looting (mistrust) and sheer ignorance or stupidity.

Whatever happens cannot be blamed on the Government or on a failure to communicate the seriousness of the threat. We cannot expect that emergency relief crews can pass eroded roadways or man helicopters in hurricane winds in order to reach mountain regions.

However, as the winds picked up, I checked 15 radio stations and found that only four were broadcasting anything about the hurricane and safety advisories. This speaks to a severe communication gap that affects major issues that the country needs to understand, including governance issues and the IMF that will probably affect our lives even more than Sandy. But then I have always said that ignorance is a necessary partner of carelessness, and Sandy may just expose that clearly.

It is reasonable to suggest that very few persons understand the complex issues that confront us, from the cost of hurricane damage right through to the more complex issues that constrain our ability to deal effectively with the remediation. Few understand the effect that this will have on our proposals to the IMF, as I am fairly sure that this was not included in our forecast expenditures, and therefore we are back to the drawing board as far as a memorandum of understanding is concerned.

Yes there will be some foreign inflows due to insurances that required overseas re-insurance, but many of these will be in the private sector and will not assist the Government’s bill for infrastructure repairs.

Foreign assistance may be promised, but we must hope that we will fare better than Haiti where those have largely disappeared and many thousands still live outdoors in that poor country. So perhaps we shouldn’t waste time holding our breath and we need to try to help ourselves.

The experience needs careful analysis as the eventuality of natural disasters is beyond our control and sooner or later we will be challenged by nature. Therefore there can be little room for complacency and the need for preparation emerges as a necessity. News reports suggest that even the new road to the airport was useless, as Windward Road and the Sir Florizel Glasspole Boulevard were blocked.

We will receive some help from our friends, but I urge us to allow persons in floodprone areas to repair their own roads so that the next breakaway cannot be blamed on the Government or some incompetent contractor. This will allow us to determine if persons are willing to work for their own safety and continuity of their livelihood.

This is what responsibility is about, and then there will be no one to blame for shoddy work except themselves and their neighbours. Yes, self-preservation is a strong instinct.

Our prime minister had to cut short her official visit to Canada, but I hope she will resume this important dialogue soon. There is one good lesson to be learnt from her meeting with the Canadian prime minister that reportedly lasted a little less than 30 minutes. The reports published here and couched in diplomatic language suggest that Canada is willing to engage with us in trade and not handouts. This puts the ball in our court, as in plain language this means: “Produce and stop begging”.

We have a limited time to conclude a trade agreement that at the present time is not going anywhere fast. We currently have an exceptional non-reciprocal agreement called Caribcan, and we have not made any use of it in terms of significantly increasing our exports (see last week’s article). It may be even worse if we discounted the value of bauxite and alumina. So again, we in the private sector have explanations to give and urgent work to be done. This is not the Government’s fault (except for the tardiness of the trade agreement).

So Sandy has thrown new challenges in our path through the vagaries and nonpartisan elements of nature. However, difficulties present opportunities, and if we succeed in meeting and overcoming those adversities, then we may find ourselves charting a new way forward. Good luck and good sense to us all as we try to escape this plight and move forward.





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