As the storm approached, our Prime Minister: explained the situation, encouraged people to prepare, closed businesses at a reasonable time, attended drainage clearing sites to verify that the work was being done, and did other similarly important things.
Our Prime Minister appeared to do these things in a calm and decisive manner. She appeared to competently manage the protocols for a tropical storm. All Barbadians should feel justifiably proud of our Prime Minister’s heroic performance. So, well done, Madam Prime Minister.
What needs to be emphasised is that our Prime Minister’s actions were appropriate for a tropical storm that should do minor damage. Had we experienced Hurricane Dorian like the Bahamas, then no one, except the most extreme partisan supporters, would be praising Prime Minister (PM) Mottley’s efforts.
Our homes should be our primary shelters. If the house is not sufficiently strong, then the occupants should move to a stronger shelter. In 1993, under PM Sandiford, Barbados finally had a building code to inform homeowners and their contractors on how to build strong houses. It was a very easy-to-understand document and added little to no additional construction cost.
PM Arthur won the general election in 1994. In 1995, banks in Barbados started offering 100 percent mortgages, which started a massive residential building boom. Fortuitously, Barbados had a new Building Code at the right time. Regrettably, PM Arthur, who was responsible for Town and Country Planning, did not enforce or actively encourage the Code’s use during his 14-year term.
PM Stuart did not enforce the Building Code. However, the unpredictably went a lot further – in the wrong direction.
PM Stuart claimed to be flabbergasted at the fragility of houses in Barbados after the damage done by Tropical Storm Tomas in 2010. However, even that did not convince him to actively encourage the use of our Building Code. Instead, his administration abolished it. Thus, Barbados, in one of the most hazard-prone regions on this planet, became the only nation on Earth to offer no meaningful structural building guidance to its residents.
PM Mottley inherited this unfortunate mess and seemed well prepared to solve it. She experienced the devastation caused by Hurricane Gilbert in Jamaica in 1988. She was aware of the two Category 5 Hurricanes that caused major damage to our Caribbean neighbours in 2017. Following the general election in 2018, she declared that Hurricanes were one of the two things she feared most.
We seemed to be in good hands – PM Mottley would play the hero. She would make building strong and durable houses a priority. Tragically, she has not. This should all but ensure that we will suffer a worse fate than those in other islands if we experience a similar hurricane. Why someone who held such promise, chose such a path, is a question that only she can answer.
Our PM still has time to play the hero by doing three simple, but highly effective things. They will cost her administration no money and very little effort. First, she should temporarily reinstate the 1993 Barbados National Building Code for use in the residential construction sector only. We should never abolish something unless we can replace it with something better.
Second, the 1993 Building Code should be published on the Internet and made freely available to residents. Third, the Town Planning department should add the following standard condition of approval for residential applications:
“Construction should comply with the structural requirements of the 1993 edition of the Barbados National Building Code.”
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at [email protected]