The mess that took place on the south coast cannot be allowed to float to Barbados’ platinum coast.
According to Minister of Tourism and International Transport, Kerrie Symmonds, the sewage crisis that severely affected the south coast would wreak havoc on Barbados’ bread and butter if it touches the west coast where the island’s upscale properties are located.
Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Department of Emergency Management St James Central Emergency Organization, held at Queen’s College School Hall, Sunday evening, Symmonds said that Government sees the south coast crisis as a disaster.
He said the crisis which affected the coast for three years resulted in Barbados’ major source markets issuing public health advisories to their citizens.
Pointing out that Barbados was experiencing financial difficulties, Symmonds said the country has had to rescue itself from the mess created by the south coast sewage disaster.
“The country also now had to turn its attention to Bridgetown because the Bridgetown situation was borderline, about to become as bad as the south coast. And the fact of the matter is that while you have wrestled those two we have to turn our attention eventually to the west coast and begin from scratch. It is the platinum coast because that is where the most expensive part of the tourism product is found.
“The properties that at this time of the year are being rented at the start at $2,000 United States dollars per night, at the lowest level and at the highest level can run into $30,000 or $40,000 United States dollars. But if you destroy that coast, then I need not tell you that you destroy the economy of Barbados,” he warned.
Symmonds also indicated that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration intended to have all future Government bonds include a natural disaster clause.
He said such a necessary move would allow the state to put a two-year pause on the payment of interests and principal on those bonds, that gives Government the elbow room to finance rebuilding processes without having to incur debt to do so.
Symmonds explained that the clause would help Barbados which is already in a precarious and dangerous position of being the third most indebted country in the world, to be able to carry another generation of Barbadians forward, even if there was a national tragedy.
“In the event of a disaster taking place, for example, and heaven forbid, that Barbados was confronted with the tragedy that confronted Dominica, or the tragedy that confronted Barbuda, those kinds of tragedies would confront a Government with the requirement, to have to finance the rebuilding process by incurring debt. Remember, Government must continue.
“So when that tragedy happens and you lose 80 or 90 percent of your housing stock, Government can’t just sit down and do nothing. You have to go into the international market and you have to borrow money. And where it is still possible in the domestic economy, you’ve got to borrow more money, so you go to entities that still exist, even if only in law, like the National Insurance Scheme, to put yourself in a position to do the rebuilding,” he said.
Noting that the matter of ensuring Barbados is physically and financially ready to deal with the aftermath of a national disaster had not escaped Cabinet’s attention, Minister Symmonds said that even though the public’s purse does not have sufficient funds to correct it all at once, the time has come where the country must recognize that fundamental parts of the island’s utilities infrastructure needed to be repositioned.
“For example, the overhead wires which are used by the Barbados Light & Power (BL&P), which are used by the telephone company, we have to be very aware of the impact of a major hurricane on that infrastructure.
“I go back to the point of departure. We are not in a financial position now to do it all at once. But as we go forward, part of the corrective process, and certainly the thinking of the Government is that we must now use the opportunity where it arises, when it arises within reason, because it is a heavy financial commitment, to begin to place some of that overhead infrastructure underground,” he said.
Symmonds said that whenever a hurricane affects a country, as was clearly seen when major hurricanes devastated several Caribbean territories in 2017, power lines fall and meet flooded waters, putting residents at major safety risk.
“The telephone pole has fallen and the wires are on the ground, people do not know what is in a four-foot or three-foot flood zone of water so they walk through the water because they don’t know that there is livewire underneath there and then they get shocked and electrocuted. This has happened time after time across this region, and part of what we must do in terms of preparing ourselves in terms of disaster management, is to fix that situation,” Symmonds said.