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Can one say too much about disaster preparedness?

Thursday, September 7 2017

In the wake of Hurricane Bret last June, the TT Chamber discussed the country’s state of disaster preparedness. Despite being spared the most devastating effects of a hurricane – yet again - Bret still managed to wreak sufficient havoc in Trinidad and Tobago, demonstrating just how much we are still falling short in readiness.

Only recently, the world watched in horror as Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the southwest region of the United States. Then, as the full devastating effects became apparent, rescue operations kicked in. While not without its controversies owing to the sheer scale of the crisis, response eff orts in the face of Hurricane Harvey could off er us a few lessons.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. Incidentally, the US was not the only country severely affected within recent times; sadly, the same is true for Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa, and countries in Southeast Asia.

Changing weather patterns, coastal erosion, the destruction of reefs and natural habitats, and other environmental impacts are our realities. These are likely to become more pronounced as the years wear on, with dire consequences for island state populations such as ours.

Climate disruption is likely to cause more intense disasters and even new types. Consider heat waves and drought, salt water intrusion into fresh groundwater, increased rainfall and more powerful weather patterns… the list seems endless and very daunting, to say the least.

To make bad matters worse, indiscriminate human behaviour can worsen the negative effects of a disaster such as heavy flooding. Time and again, we have been urged to practice responsible waste disposal routines. Yet we ignore these calls and continue to use watercourses, pavements and abandoned lots as garbage dumps.

Our general apathy and dismissive attitude towards impending crises has now become quite expected. But local and global realities demand that we treat with every threat as a serious possibility.

Evacuation plans for our capital do in fact exist, but are citizens sufficiently educated about what to do in case of an emergency? Are plans in place for our other main city centres? Have we sought to close the gap on our emergency response times? Are our first responders fully resourced and well equipped? Are we consistently building resilience and capacity within our communities? In April last year, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago joined one 174 other nations in signing the Paris Climate Change Agreement at the Headquarters of the United Nations. This signalled our country’s commitment to adopt ng measures to address climate change through sustainable and targeted domestic policies. It would be good to know what further steps have been taken, to draw us closer to our objectives for the benefit of present and future generations.

While we seem to be moving rather sluggishly, yet another Hurricane – Irma - appears to be rapidly intensifying, in the northern Caribbean at the ti me of writi ng. Our only hope is that that our region and further afifi eld will be spared any serious damage.



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