In the midst of a COVID-19 battle to reduce our infection rates and declare that our island no longer has “community spread” comes the unexpected fallout of the effects of the La Soufriere volcano.
Jokingly, some have said they are better equipped to do what has to be done to avoid contracting the deadly virus than they were for what we encountered last weekend.
The eruptions of the volcano, which were catastrophic for St Vincent and the Grenadines, left our entire country covered in ash. From then until now we seem to be under siege as we daily await word from authorities as to when the next ashfall will come.
Indeed, everyday life in Barbados has changed since the events of last weekend. We find ourselves lamenting the fact that even as we continue to press on fighting the COVID-19 war, we have been blindsided by the volcanic happenings in recent days.
None of the things we now face is of our making.
But for decades there has been one natural disaster season for which we have tried to ready ourselves. But although we talk annually of the Hurricane Season which starts in June and ends in November, recent news from the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) has become a bit more bothersome than the norm given all these other unforeseen events which we are now battling.
The head of CDEMA, Elizabeth Riley, announced on Wednesday that the 2021 Hurricane Season is “more active than usual”.
Riley called on residents to be prepared, pointing out that experts are predicting 17 named storms. Hurricane-watchers at Colorado State University are predicting some 17 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes (Category 3 or above). The annual average is 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
While we are aware that it is a prediction and therefore the number could be less or more, 17 still seems like a daunting number given all that we have endured over the past year.
And although the annual Hurricane Season preparedness tips are etched in our brains, the events of the past weekend should cause us to ponder on our readiness.
Both on a national and personal level we must all take stock. If days of ash have thrown us in such a tailspin, imagine what might be were we to be faced with a direct hit from a cyclone.
The fact that over the past few days hundreds of Barbadians have been without running water in their homes, reminds us that our Hurricane Preparedness goes way beyond window shutters and storing canned food.
The Barbados Water Authority (BWA) continues to face serious challenges providing a daily water service especially to rural areas in the country. The ashfall calls for Barbadians to use water to clean up, but because of the already existing problems with mains compounded by the fact that we are in the dry season, many households remain without water.
In an effort to get a handle on overuse by those who have the precious commodity, BWA general manager Keithroy Halliday said the agency may very well implement its own water conservation measures.
He explained that the BWA was doing all it could at this stage.
“Because of the continued high demand, there are a number of areas which traditionally would never have seen deficits that are now experiencing water outages. We are topping up community tanks, we are topping up residents’ tanks, we are trying to deal with all of the residential problems . . . we are trying to ensure we have enough water in the pipes when managing through caution. We are trying to do the best that we can,” the BWA’s general manager said.
Today at the Grantley Adams International Airport, the Prime Minister told journalists she had given instructions that all must be done to ensure the water problems are fixed in short order.
“We are at a stage where the increased demand for water can become problematic,” she said. “I have just told the people that I don’t care where and how they do it, if you have to buy second-hand trucks go and buy some. Get some potable water trucks in. We do have another nine or ten trucks that have been ordered. They are not due to come, because they are new, they are due in June. But I can’t wait or go and tell anyone in the country to wait till June [for water].”
But the lack of water is not the only major challenge we could face in the middle of the hurricane season. We still have issues with the maintenance and cleaning of our drainage system. Clogged drains lead to flooding.
But the PM is also aware of this.
She said at Thursday’s press conference: “The worst thing that can happen to us would be for us to have the ash solidify, cake up like cement and go into the drainage and sewers because we would pay the price not now but in August and October and November when flooding comes as a result of heavy rainfall.”
The worst possible plight for any Bajan to endure would be struggling to sanitise due to a pandemic, trying to clean and rid one’s household of volcanic ash and wading through the aftermath of a hurricane without water. Life is hard enough already as it is without these added stresses and annoyances.
We are seven weeks away from the start of the hurricane season and some of our major challenges have been identified and are already known. We hope that the seven weeks can be used to find solutions to these major national issues.