In the face ongoing water, sewage and other “social crises”, a top regional disaster risk management consultant is warning the Freundel Stuart administration that it needs to communicate with the people.
Former Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA) Jeremy Collymore said given the complex nature of some of the problems, it was unlikely that they would be solved overnight. Therefore, he said, it was important for Government to manage public expectations “so that there is not an expected solution the next day.
“Some of things cannot be solved even with the best will and resources, there are processes to be involved. And so if you give somebody $50 million to settle a problem that has a process that involves six months to a year, people have to understand that,” he stressed, while emphasizing that crisis communication was now a central part of any government, and an indispensible element of any governance dispensation.
“And so this communication with our community about process and the reality of process is a missing gap, not only at the national level, but also with our development partners,” Collymore said, explaining that when it comes to development projects, the problem often was with activity schedules and less on process.
“It is important that the community, or the potential victims, are a key part of that process because to the extent that they register their discomfort consistently can be disruptive in itself to the effort to move forward,” Collymore told Barbados TODAY.
His comments come against the backdrop of a major backlash suffered by Government on account of its handling of a problem of raw sewage on the south coast.
Of most significance are the current threats by several tourists to cancel their vacations to the island.
Just yesterday, Minister of Health John Boyce was forced to issue an apology on the floor of Parliament to business operators, residents and tourists who have been affected by awful runoff from the faulty South Coast Sewerage Project that has so far forced the closure of Worthing Beach.
Speaking in the Lower House, Boyce, who is also the parliamentary representative for the area, revealed that the technical team investigating the matter was ready to hand in its first report and that Government had already secured the necessary material to correct the problems at the sewerage plant.
However, in light of the south coast situation, as well as recent water and other challenges, Collymore is also advising of the need for a comprehensive risk management plan for the island.
“We have to look now at what this new intensity of events means for all our systems, infrastructure, etc. So this [comprehensive risk management] is no longer a by-the-side issue, it really makes that bridge between traditional disaster management and the adaptation issues associated with climate change, because very often we seem to speak to them as parallel things and not really integrated,” he said, while warning that the national architecture for harnessing such benefits was presently weak.
The former CDEMA head therefore called for a lot more attention to be paid to the spatial elements of our development in relation to the hazards that we face or the potential hazards that are emerging.
“This calls for the recognition of a national risk profile as a framework for elaborating a spatial development policy is now a must,” he said.
In view of the recent water problems that have been plaguing residents in the north and east of the island in particular, Collymore said the situation reflected a drought situation compounded by failing distribution systems and infrastructure.
However, he cautioned that “recognition of a problem is not the same as orchestrating the solution”, while emphasizing the need for an inter-stakeholder mechanism to look at the broader issue of water and a changing climate, including management and conservation of the precious resource.