A top regional disaster official is today warning that God is not a Bajan even though this island has been spared the devastating onslaught of Hurricane Irma.
Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDEMA) Ronald Jackson further said that Irma, which devastated the northern Caribbean islands of Barbuda, St Maarten, the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, could have easily veered south causing a similar impact on Barbados.
“Look at what is happening close by. Antigua is an hour and 11 minutes flight from Barbados. That’s not far. Hurricane Irma could have slipped a little bit lower down in its path and it could have been Barbados,” he said in light of the devastation caused by the powerful storm.
“As countries in the Caribbean, those of us who like to say God is a native of our respective country, we have to be very careful with the complacency that it puts us in. It is not the days of yesteryear. We are in a new normal where hurricanes and tropical storms are developing at a rapid rate. They are not as predictable in terms of how they will track,” he added.
The CDEMA boss further emphasized that “there are variables which we have no control over as human being so it is important that we recognize that we are a hurricane people.
“It is part of who we are, so we have to be prepared for it and navigate it when it comes but not be nonchalant to think that we are going to always be safe. There is always our terms when it comes to these things like Barbadians would have seen in 1955 with Janet,” Jackson stressed.
He is therefore advising Barbadian authorities, as well as those in the region as a whole, to take a closer look at their building codes and land use policies with a view to stepping up the level of disaster readiness and preparedness.
In light of Irma, which is currently churning its way out of the Lesser Antilles, the CDEMA head also called on the region to re-examine the current model of development with a view to seeing how it may be adversely impacting the environment.
“Much of what we have done in the region has sought to interfere with and has disrupted that balance and it is a question of how do we restore that balance between physical development and natural assets,” said Jackson, while pointing to issues of infrastructure and drainage capability.
“One of the things that we’ve seen is that we’ve built up quite a bit, but we haven’t adjusted the drainage infrastructure to carry the overland flow. We have a tendency to remove trees and vegetation and harden the surface which causes rapid run off,” he explained while suggesting there was need to strike the right balance.
Considered a monster storm, Irma has so far claimed at least ten lives — including that of a young child — in addition to leaving a trail of destruction in the Leeward Islands, despite feverish efforts at preparation.
However, Jackson is still not satisfied that enough attention is being paid region wide to the issue of building codes. In fact, he suggested today quite frankly that many codes need not only to be updated, but to be implemented and more importantly enforced.
“We talk about public private partnership. That is an area where we really need to greater partnerships between government planning departments, the insurance sector and the banking sector so that we can get it right,” he said.
“ It is something that we on the CDEMA side, when we are not facing these adverse events, we are advocating for on the prevention and risk reduction side as part of our comprehensive disaster management strategy and advocacy programme,” he added.
Meantime, another hurricane – Jose – is taking aim at the northern Lesser Antilles, as a CDEMA rapid assessment team heads for Antigua. It comprises members of the Regional Security System, the Caribbean Community’s Disaster Relief Unit, the Caribbean Public Health Agency, the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination . . . and the UK-based Department for International Development.