The fact that we in Barbados have made it through the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season so far unscathed from a serious weather event, is a development for which all should be grateful.
Pre-season forecasts from experts at the Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, predicted an active season with an updated outlook for a “well above-median October-November activity in the Caribbean”.
It is for this reason that we must not become complacent with less than two months to go before the close of the season. The island was way out of the path of killer Hurricane Ian. However, our neighbours in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and parts of Florida, were not so lucky.
The death and destruction of the weather system have been cataclysmic and the cost to rebuild is several billion dollars and growing.
This is the backdrop for a larger debate of several issues related to our ability to prepare for the changing weather patterns that have become more dangerous and more difficult to predict with accuracy.
In fact, the publication Scientific America accurately described the 2022 hurricane season as one that went from “quiet to a Power Keg”. Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University described the early part of 2022 as “really, really dead” with no storms in August, which was the first time since 1997. He then described the abrupt change at the end of September as a “sudden flip”.
So, it was also fortuitous that Senior Minister Dr William Duguid revealed during debate this week in the House of Assembly that Government had to finance repairs to houses damaged during Hurricane Elsa in 2021 to the tune of $140 million.
That is a staggering figure given that Elsa was Category One system when it touched the island. Roofs on houses and some commercial buildings flew off like leaves on an almond tree, as winds reached 60 miles per hour with gusts up to 75 miles per hour.
This hefty bill which will be picked up by our tax payers, is an indictment on the quality of our housing stock, including the quality of construction of our roofs. If the lowest-level hurricane destroyed and damaged more than 1, 000 homes, some of which are still to be repaired or rebuilt, we have a serious problem on our hands.
As we await a year later for some homes to be repaired or rebuilt, those affected families are being sheltered at the expense of the state. So, the bills are adding up.
Moreover, if we juxtapose this with the concerns expressed by members of the General Insurance Association of Barbados, that the majority of homes on the island are not insured, we have a formula for disaster of a social and economic kind.
We have heard of an island-wide survey involving the Barbados Defence Force and students at the Barbados Community College and the Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute of Technology, called Operation Seek and Secure.
The Ministry of Housing, Lands and Maintenance project is commendable as it seeks to perform an audit of the housing stock of Barbados with a particular focus on houses that are made of wood, wood and wall construction, and single storey wall bungalows.
Our concern is that it is taking place at the tail end of the hurricane season and should have been an initiative undertaken much earlier.
Be that as it may, we will argue for more action that is within the power of government to effect immediately and empowers homeowners to take action, rather than await instructions from the administration.
We suggest that fiscal incentives such as returning the tax concessions for repairs and upgrades to houses. How about some kind of incentive for people who show evidence that they have insured their homes. What about a campaign that encourages new home builders to choose concrete roofs or more hurricane resistant designs?
If a homeowner’s house is more than 25 years old, what about incentivizing them to upgrade or change the roof structure.
The skeptics will always ask, who will finance these incentives and can we afford them. Our response is, taxpayers are already financing a $140 million repair bill for houses damaged last year. We contend that this $140 million could have been provided to homeowners to strengthen their homes and insure them in a project that protects them for many years to come.