By Dickson Igwe, Contributor
In every aspect of social and economic planning and policy, Disaster Management and Storm Preparedness must be the pivot upon which life in the Caribbean’s hurricane belt rests and depends. But were lessons learned from Hurricanes Irma and Maria?
OK, The British Virgin Islands are not simply in a hurricane zone. These intoxicatingly beautiful tropical Isles are set into a hurricane alley – A CONVEYOR BELT – where it appears that these vicious beasts of the climate pass through, annually, creating and spreading loss, mayhem, and death, in their wake.
The Bahamas are presently being pummeled by Hurricane Dorian, and the damage from high winds and sea surge is indeed a major tragedy for The Bahamas.
And Hurricanes Irma and Maria of September 2017 were a terrible jolt to these beautiful Islands. Multiple people died during those storms, and in the thereafter. The public and private cost of both hurricanes were estimated at three billion dollars.
It has been asserted that the twin hurricanes of 2017 set the British Virgin Islands back a decade in terms of physical and economic development lost.
Ask the question: where would the Virgin Islands sit today had there been no twin hurricanes in late 2017?
Simple observation two years after Irma: government administrative buildings are yet to be fully restored; numerous home dwellings remain in need of repair and are only partially habitable; a number of major commercial buildings and retail warehouses remain ruined; the country’s publicly owned resort and marina- Prospect Reef- remains a ruin. There is a lot more of the preceding, around the country.
The individual and social effects of the 2017 hurricane season include a struggling tourism economy, astronomical home and car insurance costs, and a general feeling of insecurity, before each hurricane season. In a sense, Irma and Maria stole the country’s sense of safety and security.
Sense of community disappeared
But have lessons been learned? Sadly it does not appear so! The sense of community and compassion that were the aftermath of Irma has long since disappeared.
One can only hope building codes have been tightened. And have anti-flooding measures been implemented in the aftermath of the flooding mayhem of recent hurricanes?
The whole territorial planning process may require a rethink. Key departments may have to move to higher and safer ground, than remain in a flood-prone Road Town. Or at least be banned from ground floors of commercial buildings. Digitization means tasks can be carried out at locations once deemed unviable.
And one wonders whether the burying of critical conduits of electricity and communications is underway. Not to speak of the horrible water supply- water is the most critical resource in a time of disaster.
After millions of dollars spent in supposedly ensuring every resident has a supply of clean water over twenty years- water supply in the Virgin Islands remains in the ”stone age.”
The harsh reality is that residents must place storm protection at the very top of the home rental, home building, and house purchase pyramid. Roofing must be robust and walls extra strong. Doors and windows storm proof. Cisterns well maintained. Hurricane shutters durable, reliable, and highly impact resistant.
All year round, yards and verandahs should be free of unnecessary items that simply become missiles during a strong hurricane, and debris to litter the hillsides.
In a world where climate change, and human impunity, in regard to the environment, has generated dangerous weather patterns, and rising seas, building disaster preparedness and disaster management into the DNA of social and economic development is critical; otherwise, everything else is meaningless.
Yes, Dorian is a reminder that these beautiful Virgin Islands have some way to go before they can consider themselves self-sufficient and disaster resilient.
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