Storm clouds don’t always blow away

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.”

These are the ONLY hurricanes/storms ever to pass through the Caribbean before July 15 since records began. So Chantal really IS unusual. (Graphic: www.wunderground.com)
These are the ONLY hurricanes/storms ever to pass through the Caribbean before July 15 since records began. So Chantal really IS unusual. (Graphic: http://www.wunderground.com)

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.

Houses destroyed by Hurricane Gilbert. (Photo: Gleaner)
Houses destroyed by Hurricane Gilbert. (Photo: Gleaner)
For those of you who remember, this plane was blown by Hurricane Gilbert and remained stuck in these trees for quite a while thereafter. We made jokes about it - but Gilbert was NO joke.
For those of you who remember, this plane was blown by Hurricane Gilbert and remained stuck in these trees near Kingston’s Norman Manley Airport for quite a while thereafter. We made jokes about it – but Gilbert was NO joke. (Photo: Edmundo Jenez)

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.”

Waves, brought by Hurricane Sandy, crash on a house in the Caribbean Terrace neighborhood in eastern Kingston, Jamaica, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. Hurricane Sandy pounded Jamaica with heavy rain as it headed for landfall near the country's most populous city on a track that would carry it across the Caribbean island to Cuba, and a possible threat to Florida. (AP Photo/Collin Reid)
Waves, brought by Hurricane Sandy, crash on a house in the Caribbean Terrace neighborhood in eastern Kingston, Jamaica, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. Hurricane Sandy pounded Jamaica with heavy rain as it headed for landfall near the country’s most populous city on a track that would carry it across the Caribbean island to Cuba, and a possible threat to Florida. (AP Photo/Collin Reid)

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.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32208 Statement on Hurricane Sandy by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in Parliament, November 6, 2012: 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


14 thoughts on “Storm clouds don’t always blow away

  1. Hi. I just discovered your blog while doing a google search on the plane in the tree image at Norman Manley.
    I had taken that shot by 1988 using a film camera – how old is that 🙂 I posted it online years later on webshots. . Interesting to see that it still has good value for viewers today. There were a few other shots that I did not post that give other angles on the plane showing the under carriage that was remarkably intact.

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    1. Wow. I should have credited you for this photograph. I will make that correction now. Thank you for pointing it out. In fact, I remember seeing that plane in the tree for quite a long time after the hurricane, whenever we went to or from the airport! It just stayed there, as if no one knew what to do with it. Anyway, thanks for touching base. I hope you will become a regular reader of my blog! Best regards.

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    2. Dear Edmundo Jenez, I am writing to you from Carlong Publishers (Caribbean) Limited. We are in the process of publishing a history textbook about Jamaica. We would like to use your photograph of the plane in the tree after hurricane Gildbert. Please contact us so that we can send you a formal request.

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    1. I guess that is what we always have to do. it bothers me that people just seem to do the first part of that sentence, though. At least, that’s the impression I am getting – and I would love someone to prove me wrong!

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  2. Very timely article Emma. Good points raised. Why aren’t your columns published in the GLEANER or OBSERVER too? People in high places who get those papers on their desks every day need to read articles like these. Meantime, we pray for JAH blessings and protection.

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    1. Thanks so much for your input, dear Barbara! I think I will share this article with the newspapers – I would love it to be on the desks of the “powers that be”, at least for them to think about and respond. This topic has been at the back of my mind for a while, because I have heard so little about disaster preparedness this year (despite Sandy just a few months ago). I do hope that Jah will protect us. And we also need to do whatever we can at a personal level to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe…

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  3. Stay safe. You’re right, no one likes to mention disasters and those that do get pilloried as doom-mongers and pessimists. I think many governments encourage this so they can use the funds elsewhere.

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    1. Yes Aisha – as I was writing this I was thinking “Oh, here I go again, Ms. Doom and Gloom!” You are probably right – governments want to use the money elsewhere, meanwhile (and then get caught when a storm causes millions, or billions of dollars’ worth of damage). Ah well. I’ve got it off my chest, now!

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    1. Thanks Ionia… No, she doesn’t like us much at all, but then that’s because we have not been kind to her either, isn’t it. On our little island, I just wish people would think and care more for our environment – not just during the hurricane season, but all year round…

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      1. I agree with that the world over. Doing this trash cleanup for the last few months has opened my eyes to how rough it really is. The governments need to be educated on what to do before it happens and set aside the appropriate funds to handle these things.

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      2. Exactly! I don’t get any sense that there is an “action plan.” We all know when the hurricane season starts and even which month we get the most storms in as a rule. We do have time to plan. I know it all costs money though, and funds are very short indeed…

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