Now for the post-Sandy recovery

Thursday, October 25, 2012    

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IF everything went according to the predictions from the Meteorological Service and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Jamaica would have been severely impacted by the ferocious winds and rains of Hurricane Sandy.

The thing about natural disasters is that the best we can do is to be as prepared as possible to meet their arrival and to launch an effective recovery programme immediately after.

Regrettably, we don't get to choose when such disasters occur, and sometimes they come at the worst possible time. This is one such time.

The country is weak economically and growing weaker by the day while we await the completion of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A new pact will, hopefully, provide us the balance of payments support without which economic stability and growth will be virtually impossible.

The finance minister, Dr Peter Phillips, has indicated that there are no fundamental differences between Jamaica and the Washington-based Fund. But it is conceivable that some targets already agreed on may have to be revisited to take into consideration any negative impact of the hurricane that might not have been foreseen. We are confident that the IMF is fully cognisant of such circumstances which are beyond our control.

Jamaica has very supportive partners in the international community, including financial agencies such as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), popularly known as the World Bank; the Inter-American Development Bank (IBD); the European Union (EU); United States Agency for International Development (USAID); and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), among others. We will especially need them at this time.

Yet, we are constrained to make the point that, whatever assistance we get from our good friends and neighbours, the real recovery will have to be effected by our people with decisive leadership from our Government.

We are happily aware that the disaster preparedness apparatus, which includes many voluntary organisations, has been increasingly fine-tuned over the years, as evidenced by the dramatic reduction in loss of lives and property after each disaster. What has not been done is usually related to resource constraints.

This level of preparedness has also made it possible to recover faster. The utility companies, in particular, have been able to restore electricity, water and telephone services in a much shorter time than, say, after Hurricane Gilbert, which hit us on September 12, 1988.

The lessons learnt from Gilbert served us well after Ivan, which devastated Jamaica in 2004. And even though many people do not completely recover, we can generally say on balance that we are doing better after each disaster.

Naturally, we will not know the full measure of Sandy's impact until the estimates of damage have been done, in order to know what it will take to put us back on our national feet.

Jamaicans seem to be made for such times, as we come together effortlessly in the face of disaster and hardship. We will need each other now.





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