The month of September has been apocalyptic. Not just at home in the Caribbean, but across the globe.
Virtually every day, the news has been filled with calamity after calamity.
This week alone, Mexico City was brought to its knees by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 230 people. And while rescuers were frantically combing the rubble for survivors, within hours New Zealand was struck by a powerful 6.1 magnitude quake, and then shortly after Japan was rocked by an earthquake of similar magnitude.
Seismologists also reported earthquakes in Vanatu and Indonesia.
Back at home in our Caribbean, nature’s fury struck home like never before – reminding us of the wisdom in the old mariner’s poem describing the hurricane season that September is to be remembered.
The horrors of catastrophic hurricanes Harvey, Irma and, most recently, Maria have not only shattered the lives of thousands but flabbergasted those of us who have been fortunate enough to have been spared their mindboggling ferocity.
Images of the destruction have flooded television and social media, making our hearts sink as the death toll climbs.
It is simply too hard to find the words in the face of these unbearable disasters which have set back some of our Caribbean nations in dramatic fashion.
That Barbuda has been rendered uninhabitable, Anguilla, St Kitts & Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Saint Martin, Guadeloupe and Dominica and the rest, all battered to almost ruin, were as unexpected as Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.
Yet, here we are, left to pick up the pieces and rebuild – and that we must – as one Caribbean.
Whether we know someone living in the affected countries or not, all of us have been affected by the devastation that these hurricanes have left behind.
Today, an emotional Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who felt firsthand the fury of the unrelenting category five Maria – having lost the roof of his official residence and being forced to shelter under a mattress – told a story of utter destruction.
“People were just exposed to the hurricane – nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. We have many deaths but it’s just a miracle that we do not have hundreds of deaths,” he said.
“The country was devastated. Every village in Dominica, every street, every cranny, every person in Dominica was impacted by the hurricane.
“It will take us a very long time to get back to pre-Maria state. Every part of the country, either 95 per cent, or 99 per cent or 85 per cent, everywhere in Dominica has received a serious beating,” he said.
Dominica’s story and all the others should cause Barbadians to be simply thankful that we have been untouched and can carry on life as normal. This is a good time to press the reset button, take stock of what is really important, learn the critical lessons and make critical changes.
By now, all Barbadians should realize that Mother Nature is not be messed with.
Admittedly, while there’s only so much you can do when a storm of Maria’s magnitude arrives, we have to accept that as a country we have not treated this issue of disaster management and preparedness as serious business.
Firstly, Barbadians must stop bellyaching and criticizing our meteorological officials when weather systems take their own path.
Regardless of predictions, everyone should be prepared. There are no models that are 100 per cent correct.
Secondly, citizens have got to be more mindful of their environment. Five minutes of rainfall in Barbados results in widespread flooding and we have to accept responsibility for this situation when we recklessly fill our drains with Styrofoam containers, forks, spoons, rags, plastic bags and garbage of all kinds and then cry out about flooding. We have to stop!
Thirdly, the abuse of social media by some who delight in spreading rumours, fake news and false pictures during times of disaster is abhorrent and frankly should be punished. As citizens, we should instead concentrate on ensuring we have a proper plan in place to safeguard our lives and property for any eventuality.
At the level of Government, this country must assess the investment and resources allocated to this all-important area and determine whether they are enough with predictions that superstorms of the likes of Maria and Irma will become the norm.
Our building codes must be re-examined. Can we continue to permit construction in flood-prone areas and on the coastline? Are our shelters adequate to withstand 165 mile-per-hour winds and house hundreds or even thousands? Do we have a rainy day fund that can help us to respond immediately when disaster strikes? These are just some of the critical issues.
We cannot afford to miss the lessons from this hurricane season.
In the meantime, our immediate focus must be pulling all our resources – financial and otherwise – to ensure our neighbours get back on their feet.
Kudos to the Government and private citizens for their initiatives so far. Please continue to give generously, however big or small.
We have a long way to go, but we can do it together. Our resilient Caribbean will recover and rise again.