As we mourn with Bahamians, let's learn from their pain

Sunday, September 15, 2019

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Once again, we express our sincere condolence to the Government and people of The Bahamas on the loss of lives following the devastating category 5 Hurricane Dorian. The total number of dead continues to rise and may never be known.

Just based on the severe damage inflicted on Jamaica by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, we know that the recovery process will be long, perhaps lasting several years, and will cost an enormous amount in both public and private investment.

The first priority, understandably, has been relief for those suffering through the provision of medical treatment, food, water, accommodation and medicines. Assistance has come from many national, regional and international institutions and foreign governments, notably the United States, Great Britain and our own Jamaica, which sent a contingent of engineers and soldiers from the Jamaica Defence Force.

The coordination of all of this is a complex exercise for the Government of The Bahamas, and in order not to add to the difficulty, those who want to help should give cash, thereby avoiding the problem of sending unwanted items and obviating the problems of collection and transportation of goods.

It is important to understand that it is not too early to start building resilience during the first stage of recovery and reconstruction. During damage assessment, it would be advisable to review building designs for temporary and replacement housing and for infrastructure, with a view to strengthening the built environment.

Review of the Building Code to ensure that the guidelines for rehabilitation and new construction conform to the highest standards is critical.

As far as possible, planning should take account of the most affected people. It is necessary to avoid relief agencies going into action with plans they have employed elsewhere, since each disaster is unique. It is essential to listen to the views/perceptions of the affected population in order to formulate appropriate response operations.

It is necessary to learn from this experience about how to handle mandatory evacuation and the factors which influence decision-making of people at risk, their perception of the risk and risk personalisation. In this regard, training in community-based disaster management is another must-do.

Small-island developing states (SIDS), such as The Bahamas, need to develop a plan to survive tsunamis and storm surges associated with hurricanes. In SIDS which are not as low-lying as The Bahamas, consideration must be given to the location or relocation of essential facilities such as airports, electricity-generating plants and hospitals.

To emphasise the point for Jamaicans, let us not forget that our two international airports are a few feet above sea level, and so are most of the electricity-generating plants, as well as Bank of Jamaica, the headquarters of Bank of Nova Scotia (the largest commercial bank), National Library, National Gallery and the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs building.

Let us also keep abreast of what is happening in The Bahamas so that we can learn from the terrible disaster which has befallen our brothers and sisters there.


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