Just a quick thought here, and I hope my readers will bear with me.
As I write, Tropical Storm Chantal is bustling out of the Atlantic Ocean towards Barbados, which is now on Tropical Storm Warning. As a storm developing before July 15, Chantal is extremely unusual, as a meteorologist notes in the article below. Until now, only thirteen named storms have ever entered the Caribbean Basin before July 15 – since 1851. Dr. Jeff Masters sees this as a “harbinger” of an extremely active hurricane season. Before she even entered the Caribbean, however, our National Meteorological Service seemed quite certain that “Chantal is not a threat to Jamaica.”
I am a little nervous. (Is it only me?)
Some time ago in a blog post I expressed concern that no mention was made during the budget debate about the possibility of a natural disaster this year, and how such an “external shock” might impact the extremely fragile Jamaican economy. So far as I know, no mention was made of funds set aside for disaster preparedness and mitigation…or the eventuality of a major hurricane (or earthquake, flood etc., come to that). Yes, I know there is a Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change – but it seems to me that these four areas are in priority order. There has been much talk about water supply, as rightly there should be. Land is always a hot topic. But environment and climate change? Not so much.
I would love someone to prove me wrong. I see there is a Disaster Fund, and that a Disaster Risk Management Bill will likely be passed some time in this parliamentary year. No rush, it seems. Meanwhile, the Fund stands at some J$250 million (US$2.5 million) – which doesn’t seem very much in the scheme of things, does it? Now, last year Hurricane Sandy was only a Category One hurricane when it impacted Jamaica, but it caused around US$100 million in damage. Over 4,000 homes were damaged, and the agricultural sector was hard hit, to the tune of approximately J$1.4 billion. That disaster fund isn’t going to go far. But Jamaica has signed on to the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, and in April Jamaica did receive US$100,000 for post-Sandy recovery.
I was told when I mentioned this on social media that, OK, the “donor agencies” (foreign governments) will help out if there is a disaster. And indeed they have, in the past. But there are natural disasters all over the world at any given time. Are we just going to hold our hands out and beg for help every time there is a storm? Can’t we help ourselves? (I hope I have got all these figures right. Please correct me if I am wrong). The point is, I suppose, that Sandy was only seven months or so ago. Our memories seem short.
Meanwhile, the Jamaican Government’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management seems rather quiet. Is the Government holding its breath, keeping its fingers crossed and just hoping the worst doesn’t happen this year?
I hate to be paranoid, but what if we get a direct, or even a glancing hit from a major hurricane in the next two or three months? Even tropical storms can (and have) done incredible damage – Nicole, in September 2010, brought widespread and intense flooding, resulting in landslides and loss of life.
My husband and I have vivid memories of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. The physical and psychological shock of that storm was enormous. I remember trying to drive through a devastated city… 45 Jamaicans died in Hurricane Gilbert.
And please don’t tell me that Jamaica is a “God blessed island,” or something. Let’s get real. We need to understand that climate change is here to stay; that we will be affected by another hurricane (or earthquake) inevitably; that our environment is both neglected and degraded; and that rather than praying, each one of us needs to pick ourselves up and start trying to strengthen our resistance to storms. Whatever we can do. And that includes not building on gully banks or in river beds. And caring for our environment.
Please take whatever steps are necessary to protect yourself and your surroundings. Don’t wait and hope it never happens.
I am not a prophetess of doom. But I do agree with Lord Byron, who once said, “The best prophet of the future is the past.”
Related articles and websites:
http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=2456 Dr. Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog, July 8, 2013
http://www.jis.gov.jm/component/content/article/122-parliament/34206-bill-to-be-tabled-to-boost-disaster-fund Bill to be tabled to boost disaster fund: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.odpem.org.jm Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management
http://www.metservice.gov.jm Meteorological Service of Jamaica website
http://www.ccrif.org Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility website
Tropical Storm Chantal forms, races toward Caribbean (coralvillecourier.typepad.com)
5 Ways to Landscape for Hurricane Preparedness (allstate.com)
Yardedge Addresses Climate Change and the Caribbean (repeatingislands.com)
World Environment Day: June 5, 2013 (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://hill60bump.com Caribbean Sustainable Development blog – very informative