The Hurricane Season is Here!
Hello Again, St. Lucia,
Today, I am representing St. Lucia at the 25th Caricom Summit in Grenada, but
before leaving I decided to speak with you on yet another area of civic
responsibility. This time it’s about disaster management and how we should
prepare for emergencies and disasters.
It’s Never Too Late…
We are at the beginning of the hurricane season and we are all uneasy because
we’ve had an unusual amount of rain for the year. I cannot recall when last we
had so much rain in April and May.
E sam kawem fini! Like you, I am worried. However, it’s not too late to be
reminded of the need do the things that will protect our lives and property from
danger and destruction.
Protecting Ourselves Against Dangers
The weather patterns are changing so much that we never know what to expect.
We saw and heard what happened in Haiti and the Dominican Republic last
December, and again last month, and we feel sorry for the victims in those
countries. But what about us, right here in St. Lucia?
At the official level, we are now better prepared to respond to disasters.
Nearly every constituency now has Disaster Preparedness Committees. Committee
Members have been trained to respond to emergencies, whether natural or
man-made. The Government has also constructed satellite warehouses containing
hurricane and other emergency supplies at points around the island. Such
warehouses exist in Gros Islet, Vieux Fort, Dennery South, Micoud North, Vieux
Fort South, Choiseul and Canaries. These warehouses exist to provide a first
response to those who have suffered after a disaster.
As usual, I have met NEMO to review the arrangements in the event that we have
to cope with a hurricane or other disaster this year. In addition, at last
count, there were 324 hurricane shelters spread around nine regions of the
island, all to ensure that each community, each village and each town are
Government has also constructed Gabian Baskets in many areas vulnerable to
erosion and landslides.
Only this week, the World Bank approved a loan of EC $7.5 million for further
investment in disaster mitigation.
Since its creation, the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) has been
educating the public about the dangers of natural and man-made hazards and the
consequences of not being prepared. But even after all these warnings, and with
all the support from government with the appropriate laws and enforcement, some
of us simply choose to ignore these warnings.
We are prepared, but are you?
Good Lessons From The Past…
I am aware that many in our society are unable to be fully prepared because they
may not possess the means to do so. I am reminded though, that in times gone by
– especially when I was growing up -- that whenever the hurricane season was
upon us, persons in town and country always kept their yards clean, stored water
and dry goods and protected their few valuable documents from destruction by
putting them in plastic bags or even biscuit tins.
There are lessons in this for all of us. The main lesson, I think, is that
irrespective of the value of our possessions, it is our duty to protect them. It
is also our duty to avoid behaviour that will endanger the lives of others.
But disasters are not only about the natural ones like hurricanes and storms.
There are also man-made disasters. Yes, there are disasters caused by us, by
what we do -- or what we fail to do.
Some recent man-made disasters in Saint Lucia have combined with natural
elements to create some unstable areas and empty spaces on our beautiful
landscape. I speak of the earth movements a few years ago in Bogius and Black
Mallet, for example.
I want to urge all St. Lucians to always listen to sound advice, not to follow
the crowd into danger, and to always let good sense prevail. We all have a
responsibility to avoid danger and not to court disasters. I urge you to avoid
danger. In fact, I encourage you to always move away from danger.
We are all trapped into the fast pace of daily living, paying little attention
to the small things that can turn into unexpected dangers. Plastic bags and
bottles in drains near homes can reduce the flow of water and create floods and
endangering whole communities; an old window placed on top a commercial building
in the city can become a dangerous missile; and inaccurate information through
the media or any other means can also lead to loss of life.
It would help for each and every one of us to learn from and perhaps adopt the
motto of the Boy Scouts movement, which is “Be prepared!”
Every time you are about to spend your last five dollars on something you simply
want, think instead of those things you really need -- particularly in this
hurricane season. That’s because being prepared is an individual responsibility.
Whenever I think of disasters, there are some particularly vulnerable areas that
spring to mind. These areas are low-lying and very susceptible to flooding. I
think, in particular, of Anse La Raye and the Baccaderre in my own constituency
in Vieux Fort. It is very important that persons in those communities heed the
warnings and the advice of NEMO and the local Disaster Preparedness Committees.
Later this year, work will finally commence on improving drainage in Anse La
Raye to ease the plight of residents. I know that I could count on my friend,
Glenda, and her neighbours in the Baccaderre, to do the right thing – that is,
to heed the warnings.
Take Warnings Seriously!
So, once again, I urge each and every one of you to always take hurricane
warnings and announcements about disaster preparation seriously. Know where the
emergency shelter closest to you is located. Always keep those things at home
that you will need in case of an emergency. At the same time, always take note
of warnings of dangerous practices that could result in disasters.
We never know when a hurricane will strike or when an emergency will take place.
Nor do we know who will need help when a disaster strikes, whether it was
man-made or natural. And, of course, there is always the old adage that says
that we should always be prepared to lend a hand in times of emergency because
the life you save may very well be your own.
A Very Mixed Week…
As I close, I am drawn to reflect on the events of the past week. What a very
mixed week it was.
We welcomed and embraced a dear friend of Saint Lucia, Prime Minister P.J.
Patterson of Jamaica.
We had to contend with the passing of the great patriot, Sir George Frederick
Lawrence Charles. As I said in a special statement on last Monday, “this was a
man who gave but did not count the cost, who fought but did not seek rest and
who laboured, but for no reward.” I urge all of you to attend the funeral to pay
homage to this diminutive man who was uncompromising in his stance for the poor
and dispossessed, and unyielding in his respect for the dignity of work.
Then, in the midst of this pain of death, we were told that the Pitons Area was
declared a World Heritage Site. Congratulations to the people of Soufriere and
indeed to all St. Lucians.
More on these events when I return…
In the meantime, until next Monday, I wish you another good week.