As another weather system approaches the Eastern Caribbean, we in Barbados are again reminded of the urgency to get our houses in order.
We understand it will not be an easy undertaking for many who are already struggling financially and whose living conditions are continuously compromised due to poverty and limited opportunities.
Nonetheless, difficult economic and social circumstances can be transformed into occasions to demonstrate that inimitable character of sharing and caring, for which Barbadians are known.
When a destructive weather event occurs, it often proves to be a great equalizer. For in the immediate aftermath, no amount of money can give you access to resources that have been destroyed.
After a hurricane, the entire population suffers. When Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 18, 2018, as a Category 5 storm packing winds of 160 miles per hour with even higher gusts, we listened as Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit inform radio listeners that he had lost the roof of his house and his family was in danger.
What did the Commonwealth of Dominica look like after that storm? The destruction was cataclysmic.
Some 31 people were killed and another 37 were reported missing. About 65,000 people, or around 80 per cent of the population, were directly affected and more than 90 per cent of roofs in the country were damaged or destroyed.
Electricity and water supplies were disrupted, and the nature isle known for its fruits and vegetable production saw entire crops destroyed.
We live in a beautiful but hazard-prone area of the world and the threat of hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and sea-level rise are ever lurking.
For these reasons, cementing a practice of sharing and caring for those around us helps to strengthen our resilience as a people.
Simple gestures such as aiding neighbours, the sharing of tools to help others protect their properties, checking in with the elderly to ensure they have supplies of basic items such as drinking water, the trimming of trees, the shoring up of galvanized sheets on roofs and palings, and putting away items that could be dangerous missiles in storm-force winds, are forms of giving that cost us nothing.
The securing of insurance coverage for homes and content represents a sacrifice that every home owner should make.
It is a worrying state of affairs to learn that the majority of houses on the island have no form of insurance coverage.
Maybe it is time for the insurance sector and government to dig a little deeper to find out why more Barbadians are not protecting their largest investment with insurance coverage.
Is it a case of affordability? Should the state pursue mandatory coverage, as is the case with vehicle insurance? Or is it the fact that the island has not been hit by a major catastrophe for several years and so complacency has set in among homeowners?
Figures from the General Insurance Association of Barbados (GIAB) suggest that between 60 and 70 per cent of homes are uninsured.
A suggestion has been mooted by senior insurance executive and GIAB president Randy Graham that government and the private sector should team up to encourage more Barbadians to insure their properties, through a publicly funded national home insurance pool.
Given the millions of dollars Government was forced to divert last year to respond to a freak storm, and before that Tropical Storm Tomas, one would think that such an initiative would have garnered greater attention.
Graham recommended that the national fund be fashioned after the highly successful model adopted by the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Fund, which is the regional insurance risk pool.
Graham, whose company has been involved in the rebuilding efforts after several weather disasters over the years across the Caribbean, summed it up this way.
“What that does, it makes some form of cover for hurricanes or earthquakes or even fire, available for the masses of the population at a reduced cost. In the first instance, we can ask international funding agencies to help fund the cost of the setup and even the premiums in the first couple of years, and as households get it and see it in use, they can then take on the cost of it going forward.
“I think that is something that can definitely work and that would give us a chance of getting more houses insured in Barbados.”
As a people whose vulnerability to disasters is so high, preparedness at the national and household levels has to be given greater priority by the state and ordinary citizens.