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Disaster Preparedness: It is Our Business! - June 13, 2005

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Another hurricane season is here, and this year, we have been warned to expect more storms with greater degrees of intensity.  Indeed, meteorologists are predicting a particularly, active and busy hurricane season. The truth is, I am worried, even uneasy as I know the odds are against us. You must never forget that St. Lucia has had a dramatic history of severe weather systems hitting in 1780, 1818, 1819, 1831, 1837, 1841, 1894,1898, 1923, 1951, 1955, 1960, 1963, 1967, 1978, 1980, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, and 2002.


It is our responsibility to take every necessary precaution to ensure that this hurricane season passes without undue loss of life, human suffering and damage to property. It is our responsibility because Disaster Management, though guided by the team at the NEMO Secretariat, is really a personal act of protection.

The Government can only advise persons but the actions that lead to protection must be one that we undertake to do for ourselves, our family and our business. We cannot stop a hurricane but we can be better prepared for its onslaught.


I am particularly concerned that Saint Lucia's run of good luck with past hurricane seasons might have lulled us into a false sense of security. 

Incidentally, this year marks the 25th Anniversary of Hurricane Allen and the 50th Anniversary of Hurricane Janet. How time flies!

The damage caused to Saint Lucia by Tropical Storm Debbie, Hurricane Lenny, and to some extent Hurricane Ivan should be a sharp reminder to all of us that we should not take the hurricane season for granted. 


We must all accept the need for greater vigilance and caution during the upcoming season.  Our fishermen and coast dwellers must pay serious attention to the advisories which are issued by
the disaster and emergency agencies.

The Government of Saint Lucia through the Saint Lucia Met Services now maintains a Weather Information Service at telephone 454-3452.  There is now no excuse for any of us not to know the status of the weather for a particular day or when a
hurricane is approaching.

Home owners and indeed all families, must take the necessary steps to ensure that their homes and families are adequately protected from hurricanes and their after-effects.

In my New Year's Address this year, I urged you to make the sacrifice and insure your property and its contents.

Recently, the President of the Saint Lucia Insurance Council, Mr Claudius Francis, spoke on the apparent reluctance of St. Lucians to avail themselves of insurance coverage.  I want to repeat my plea to you to act now in getting the insured household percentage up from 35%.

Credit Unions in Saint Lucia use the group insurance methodology that allows members to access coverage at a reasonable rate.  The Civil Service Cooperative Credit Union, for example, offers House and House Hold Contents coverage to its members.  But the traditional house insurance is not the only risk we need to consider.  Recently there have been a number of landslides, throughout the island. Subsidence insurance, as well as fire, flood and earthquake are some of the packages which are available.  Again, I want to challenge you to strive for a 60% figure of insurance coverage for this year, no matter how painful
the financial cost.

Insurance not only applies to our homes but to our businesses too.  Business persons need to ask the following questions. Does the business have:

            (a) business interruption Insurance coverage?
            (b) rent insurance coverage? and
            (c) a continuity of operations plan?

As you know, this is a technological age. Businesses should therefore determine whether they have backup files and data saved away from their businesses.


Another issue which we must address is the trimming of trees. For many, this is a vexed issue. How often have neighbors quarelled with each other over trees that separate boundaries or grow in each otherís back yard? I urge you to put your   differences aside and trim your trees to avoid injury and damage.

The laws of Saint Lucia provide an avenue for addressing the nuisance of trees. However, we are all aware of the burden that the judicial system labours under and it may be months before your case comes before the courts.  Neighbours must work together to remove the hazard of dangerous trees and branches. So, the solution does not lie in the court. If you are reluctant to cut or trim your trees, then, think again!


This brings me to a related issue, the disposal of our waste.  Having cut a tree, a river is not the place to dispose of the waste.  Poor garbage disposal in our water ways comes back to haunt us with the intensity of floods.  The topography of Saint Lucia, the combination of hills and valleys will always lead to flooding.  We can lessen the effects of flooding by disposing of our garbage in the manner prescribed by the Solid Waste Waste Management Authority.

The combination of poor garbage disposal with flood conditions brought on by hurricanes can lead to the out break of diseases.  A good example is leptospirosis. This disease is carried by rats and can be lethal.

We must take control of how we deal with our garbage.  The cycle of life is described as such because all that we do is linked.  So it is in Disaster Management:  Hurricanes bring rain that can cause floods. Poor garbage disposal can worsen those floods. Floods can sweep persons and buildings away and do untold damage.


You may have noted this Governmentís heavy emphasis on disaster mitigation and disaster planning. Every so often, you hear of a Resolution in Parliament to raise money for flood control and disaster mitigation. All of this is done as part of a broader
planning process.

Proper planning includes things like being aware of the emergency shelters in your neighbourhood.  Many persons query the adequacy of these shelters for the Hurricane Season; this is why they are Emergency Shelters and not Hurricane Shelters.   Disaster Preparedness, as I indicated earlier, is a personal precaution. For that reason, the Government of Saint Lucia, through the NEMO Secretariat, advises that persons take steps to make their homes their emergency shelters. If this is not possible then we should make advance arrangements to be with family or friends.   As recently as Hurricane Ivan, I announced in my address to the Nation the exact shelters that would be opened.  The 2005 List is available from NEMO and on the Government of Saint Lucia website.


We must never forget that a hurricane can have immense consequences for the future of our economy.  Consider the impact of a hurricane on the lives of our banana farmers who have experienced so many difficulties over the years.  A hurricane can bring closure to our tourism plant, displace workers and taxi drivers. And there is always the huge cost of rebuilding private homes, public buildings and our roads and communications network.

In such circumstances, in addition to doing all that is physically possible to protect ourselves, we can only pray to God to spare our beautiful country from the impact of a serious natural disaster. Let us hope that we all do what is necessary this year to protect life and property and let us pray to God for deliverance during this hurricane season.

Take care of yourself and PRAY hard.


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