Hurricane Irma Poses Questions

Senator McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be more active than historical averages with regard to the number of named storms, according to the latest forecasts released by Colorado State University, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and The Weather Company, an IBM Business.”

Hurricane Central

So far the 2017 hurricane season is following the script. Unfortunately it is the Northern Caribbean which has suffered nature’s fury with losses estimated in the billions. And as the loss adjusters continue to assess damage to property, we remember the 68 deaths reported.

What the post-response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma on Caribbean islands has confirmed is the opportunity for Barbados to improve its disaster response effort if such were to reoccur.  Based on reports the few Barbadians who found themselves trapped in the Northern Caribbean as a result of Irma, exposed logistical difficulty for the Barbados government to mount a rescue effort.

Well managed organizations implement Business Continuity Plans that include a Disaster Recovery Plan. The objective is to ensure if key services become unavailable the business will be able to respond first to protect resources and second to get back online in the shortest period even if in a limited way.  The stories being told by Bajans stranded in the hurricane torn countries- especially Poonka’s- has exposed a weak regional emergency response framework.

Many if not all the English Caribbean islands enacted sunset legislation to support information sharing to facilitate the hosting of CWC2007. The CWC experience serves to support a precedent for strengthening cooperation by efficiently leveraging resources -financial and human.

The inability of regional countries to respond quickly to Caricom citizens trapped in countries affected by Hurricane Irma serves as a reminder the region has some work to do to improve functional cooperation. Stories about citizens having to text Minister McClean and friends to alert of their status was embarrassing. In contrast the US government was able to erringly locate its citizens in the affected countries and airlift them out, quickly. While regional governments do not have access to the same resources, we can do better. What is the role of CEDEMA, RSS, Caricom Secretariat and other regional agencies if not to protect the well being of citizens in the region? Minister Maxine McClean’s explanation about citizens not wanting to declare destination information is weak. Poonka’s suggestion that LIAT’s passenger database- and other regional travel carriers- should be available to identify stranded passengers in times of disaster is a no-brainer.

There is no better way to nurture pride in country than in situations where the citizenry observes how its government responds to nationals in distress in a ‘foreign land’ in this instance.  There is a reason why many Americans are driven to shed a tear and place the hand over the heart when the national anthem is played or the pledge recited.

We continue to debate whether climate change will increase the severity of natural disasters in the future. We continue to debate if there is a building code in Barbados? We continue to debate why citizens affected by Tomas have been unable to unlock funds from the catastrophe fund. We continue to debate why residents trapped in White Hill cannot be given a solution.

On a related note, it is interesting to observe how Venezuela has responded to the humanitarian effort to assist Caribbean islands affected by Irma in contrast to the US and UK where there are reports of restrictions to aid monies.