What disaster?

Tamara Scott-Williams

Sunday, November 04, 2012

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MY heart goes out to everyone who suffered from the passing of Hurricane Sandy. That said, let me be one of the first to join the Honourable Minister Wykeham McNeill's public relations bandwagon and use this precious column space to spread the message that "everything is everything" in Jamaica and that we're back to business as usual.

Clovis's cartoon on Wednesday said it all, folks; Hurricane Sandy represented no 'disaster ' for Jamaica. It represented no more than the usual folly which precedes and then follows the unleashing of heavy rains and high winds on our businesses, homes and shelters.

Three weeks prior to Hurricane Sandy a section of the Kintyre bridge over the Hope River was washed away in a heavy downpour. What was left of it was further destroyed by Sandy. The remains of a home that collapsed into the river and killed two people several years ago still lies on the banks of the Hope River. Six died when their homes were washed into the sea after the heavy rains of Ivan in 2010 broke down the Sandy Gully walls, and in 2012 yet another section collapsed.

But Hurricane Sandy and Ivan did not act alone in making our living conditions miserable, for there was Gustav in 2008 and Nicole in 2010 which brought our collective attention to the fact that the people of Kintyre need better and want better than to live in fear of every raindrop.

Want to see a real disaster? Check out what's happening in the state of New Jersey and in New York City. And rest assured that the next time such freakish weather happens upon the eastern seaboard of the United States, the people would have rebuilt their businesses and homes and improved their ability to withstand a hurricane of any category.

And therein lies the difference. In the years between our hurricanes we (and by 'we' I mean successive governments of Jamaica) make few inroads into halting our crumbling infrastructure and the growing communities of hand-made zinc, and ply shelter solutions. Kintyre and Portland never had a chance.

How many of those houses built in Portland or on the gully banks or along river beds were approved by the parish council? And why must we live like this? We certainly would construct good buildings on stable lands if we were meaningfully employed and could generate enough capital to put up houses to meet and match the prevailing conditions that occur in Jamaica every year between the months of June to November.

Opposition spokesman Pearnel Charles said it in Parliament in 2005, when he urged the Government to make special budgetary allocation for disaster prevention to avoid expending sizeable amounts for relief in the aftermath of annual disasters. We imagine that what he was suggesting was that the cost of prevention is far more economical than the cost of relief efforts and would allow for greater protection of life and property.

So let's not waste any more time debating the definition of disaster and contemplating the measure of spin necessary to counter the tourism fall-out. Let's push for development and proper education and proper investments, not disaster relief.

Good going, JGRA

Congratulations to the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association (JRGA) which, by means of silent agitation, brought the Bankers' Association and other stakeholders to the table to discuss the matter of the 'prohibitive' three per cent plus GCT processing fees which banks charge gas station owners for credit card services.

Quietly, some gas stations had declined to accept Visa and Mastercards from their customers for their fuel purchases, and customers capitulated and paid with cash, debit cards or Keycards instead. The banks must have taken notice of their declining credit card processing fee revenue from the gas stations and talks ensued between them before the planned November 1 'cut off' date.

We wonder how this peaceful demonstration model can be applied to the impasse between the public and the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS). Might we consider a weekly 24-hour lights-off peaceful protest? What if we went 'powerless' for one day a week? Why not? What with our extensive hurricane and 'load-shedding' experience, we're used to not having light for at least 24 hours.

And for those few days during the power outage, did you not fall in love with your battery radio all over again? Didn't you go to bed earlier and wake up earlier, feeling rested? Didn't you talk more? Sit together around the dinner table longer, if only to share the candle light, tilley lamp or kerosene lantern? And didn't you even spend a little less money too, staying closer to home?

And that's the point, really. If we do that, submit ourselves to being 'powerless' on a weekly basis, every month for however many months it takes, the numbers will start adding up. My simple Mathematics indicates that at the end of the year I would have saved myself one-and-half month's worth of electricity. I can do something else with that money, but if enough of us do it, can JPS do without that revenue?

Think about it. Let me know.





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