Preparedness even more important this hurricane seasonWednesday, June 02, 2021
Generally , the country's disaster management agency and officials of the Government gave a credible update to the country during the National Hurricane Preparedness Campaign launch yesterday.
The agencies, we heard, are in a state of readiness and, according to Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie, almost 80 per cent of the island's 867 shelters have already been assessed, and all are equipped with isolation areas for COVID-19 patients who may need to seek refuge.
We are comforted by the intention to host virtual town hall meetings across the country as part of a wider public education programme that will also utilise youth ambassadors to, as Prime Minister Andrew Holness noted, “increase public awareness of all hazards, create a culture of compliance, strengthen public knowledge to cause behaviour change in how we plan and prepare for disasters, [and] increase youth involvement in community outreach projects and programmes”.
Mr Holness also said that, in addition to the readiness of shelters, he has instructed the National Disaster Committee to direct its attention to a number of priority areas, including cleaning of the country's priority drain infrastructure.
However, it should not have required Mr Holness, in his roles as prime minister and chair of the committee, to instruct State agencies to ensure that the island's drain infrastructure is capable of handling the results of nature's fury. That should have been taken care of by a sustained maintenance programme subjected to frequent inspections.
It was not uncommon, in recent months, to see major gullies clogged with debris. In fact, in March this newspaper published a number of photos showing just that, triggering a response from the National Solid Waste Management Authority that the Government's $320-million Gully Intervention Programme, announced by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke when he opened the 2020/2021 budget debate, was delayed because of the financial impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
As we have stressed repeatedly, Jamaica's geographic location puts it in the path of tropical cyclones and so, even if we are spared nature's rage, we will get rain — most times very heavy rain — at certain times of the year.
It is only logical, therefore, that the entities responsible for maintaining drains do just that, instead of making last-minute efforts to avoid flooding, damage to property, vital infrastructure, and, possibly, loss of life.
That we are now faced with the possibility of managing two major setbacks concurrently makes the attention we give to preparedness even more urgent.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast that the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which began yesterday and should run through to November 30, will see 13 to 20 named storms. Six to 10 of those storms will become hurricanes, and three to five will be major hurricanes with winds of more than 110 mph.
These forces of nature are nothing to sneeze at. Our fervent hope is that Jamaica, and indeed our sister Caribbean territories, will not be subjected to disaster throughout this season. But if the opposite obtains, our wish is that the damage will be minimal and we will be able to recover quickly.
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