We still have a way to go in refining shutting down and reopening Barbados under tropical storm or hurricane warnings. Come to think of it, I am not sure it is accurate to say the island was shut down but there remains an uncertainty in the population about directives issued by the Department of Emergency Management (DEM).
We knew that Barbados was expecting bad weather by 8 o’clock last Sunday morning. However, by the time the rain started to fall steadily Sunday evening, there was still no word given about work and school for Monday.
Comparatively, once a storm watch had been established in St. Lucia, there was a release which called off school and work on the island for Monday. In order for the residents of a country to take approaching weather disturbances seriously, those in charge of the communication process must seek to make interaction with the public as unambiguous and direct as possible.
It seems as though the DEM is leaving capitalist commercial activity to dictate how, or whether the island is closed for the safety and protection of life. This cannot be an acceptable state of affairs. The plain reality is that there is a number of players who have entered Barbados from foreign business cultures.
While they are accustomed to workers who are expected to report for work in rain, snow and sleet, they are also supported by government infrastructure which far surpasses what Barbados has managed thus far. Our government, and the agencies it entrusts with the management of these weather systems, knowing the differences between expectations and reality, must be willing to make informed decisions.
The announcement that schools across the island would be closed on Monday came around 4:45 in the morning. Up to that time, people were taking to all forms of traditional and social media to get a sounding about whether there was work. Compounding the confusion was that several privately owned daycares followed the lead of the Ministry of Education and suspended their services. This left several parents without safe options for the care of their wards.
Unlike international spaces where care crèches are provided for the use of employees – where pets and children cannot be discriminated against in the work space, many businesses in Barbados frown upon bringing children to work spaces. Additionally, transport systems in the international arenas which these businesses come form are much more efficient than in the Barbadian scenario.
Although the Transport Board indicated that the bus service was available Monday, many buses broke down around the island and many more were impacted by the large accumulations of water in some areas. This resulted in further delays to a service which is already experiencing severe challenges.
Some people questioned whether the Ministry of Education had made a premature decision to close schools. I marvel how many people in Barbados are completely cut off from what is really going on in the schools of Barbados. The frank and earnest synopsis of the school infrastructure in Barbados is that much of it is poorly kept and barely worthy when the sun is shining.
A steady downpour of rain not associated with any weather system is enough to create rising water levels at at least a few schools on the island. In some cases, it has to do with where the schools were constructed; in other cases wells and drains have not been cleaned for several years.
Roofs leak at several other schools and still in others the block slats or louvres used for ventilation allow heavy rains to get into classrooms. If electricity is lost and Barbados Water Authority supplies are cut, there are few schools in Barbados, if any at all, which have an alternate supply of water.
The litany of complaints about our school plants is voluminous. The Ministry of Education had no choice but to close schools given the weather. More alarming than the two day closure of schools should be that these are the buildings we are depending on for shelter accommodation in any major episode. It is tantamount to trying to boil an egg in a chilled lemonade pitcher!
My granny always used to beseech me to hang my hat where I could reach it and Barbados needs to take a more reasoned approach to how it manages commerce before, during and after weather systems. Really what we need to do is take an audit to establish our true ability to respond to and manage a major weather event. Surely we cannot think we will be spared forever.
We have to learn from the experience of our Caribbean neighbours. It seems like on a daily basis we are adding another island to the list of those completely devastated by weather events. This is in the shadow of “Big Brother” America cleaning its own house after the destruction of Texas and Florida. When our turn comes, there will not be many traditional sources of support because it will take years for our currently affected neighbours and friends to fully recover.
The more prevention we invest in, the more we hone our systems, hopefully the more we can have a fighting chance of survival. What is your plan for a major weather event?