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Sobering Reflections - October 3, 2005

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Sobering Reflections

Greetings Saint Lucia,

It is good to be back in Fair Helen. As usual, I missed the opportunities to address the issues that are of great concern to you and which affect our daily lives as a people and a nation.

As many of you are aware, my absence was due to the fact that I had to accompany my wife overseas to undergo an operation to her spine. Thankfully, the procedure was successful and she is recovering satisfactorily. Allow me, once again, to say a very special “thank you” on behalf of my wife and myself to the many Saint Lucians from the various communities and from all walks of life who wished her well. I also want to thank the many who sent cards or kept us in their prayers day in and day out. There is no better or more sincere gift than prayer. So thank you, one and all.


I returned home on Sunday to be greeted with the news that bus drivers had planned a nation wide strike for Monday in protest of their dissatisfaction with the proposed increases in bus fares announced by the Minister of Communications, Works, Transport and Public Utilities. The strike was held as planned and proved effective, much to the dismay of the public.

Government was never opposed to granting an increase in fares to minibus drivers. After all, the last time they enjoyed an increase was 1996 and since then the price of fuel has increased significantly. In granting bus drivers an increase in fares, Government had a duty to protect the public interest. It had to ensure as far as possible that the increases were fair, equitable and reasonable. The Government understood that an increase in bus fares for children would be burdensome. It was also necessary to ensure that persons who lived in remote communities were not further disadvantaged by geography and access to services.

As always, there are important lessons to be learnt. For one thing, the process leading to any future award must be overhauled. Requests for increases should really go to a body independent of the Transport Board. Requests for increases in fares should be published and the public should be invited to comment on the proposals before a determination is made. This approach will allow bodies such as the Consumer Association to react on behalf of consumers. Likewise, the Minibus Association should be invited to defend their proposals publicly. In this way the process leading to an award would be open and transparent.


Despite the fact that I was overseas, my mind never left Saint Lucia. I had the opportunity in between trips to the hospital to watch more television than usual, I often reflected on how difficult it was to separate global issues from domestic issues and how events which occur thousands of miles across the sea could have such telling impact on our own development process, economic livelihood, culture, social and legal systems. Of course this is nothing new, it has been happening for centuries. However, with the advent of globalization, the speed and pace at which these events affect us domestically seem almost instant. There appear to be little or no time to adjust and respond to these rapid changes. As a people we need to constantly think on our feet in order to keep apace with these changing realities.

We have seen these global forces at play and have had to grapple with the domestic consequences. There is no better example than the disastrous effect the WTO ruling has had on our banana industry or the events of September 11, 2001 on the local tourism industry. If we needed any reminder of how our fortunes are in some ways linked to events over which we have no control or is in no way of our own making, the escalating oil prices and the passage of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have provided further evidence.


Like many of you, I followed very closely the television images of the death and destruction unleashed by Katrina in the U.S. States of Louisiana, Mississippi and New Orleans. If we needed any reminder that climate change is occurring, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina should confirm in our minds that the World’s climate is undergoing some fundamental changes.

As a small and vulnerable island developing state, we now have to consider more seriously the potential threat that changing weather patterns can have on our lives and our economic development. In recent times many parts and regions of the world have been affected by severe weather phenomena. The Atlantic hurricane season has increased in intensity, the number of named storms have also increased and so too have the ferocity of the storms. We have to date witnessed the catastrophic destruction and loss of lives caused by the East Asian tsunami, the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan in Grenada and now the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in the Southern United States.


In the aftermath of the passage of Hurricane Katrina, I thought of the many persons who had become trapped by floodwaters, especially those who were too poor, too sick and did not have the means to evacuate. I thought too of those who, after the passage of the storm, became engaged in the frantic search for loved ones and family members. I was especially touched by the plight of the many children who suddenly became homeless and were refugees in their own country. The scenes of dead bodies were truly horrifying.

Like you, I was most perplexed by the length of time which the authorities took to respond to the disaster and to provide relief to those who were in dire need. Katrina demonstrated that natural phenomenon could humble powerful states in much the same way that it could humble small and vulnerable countries. As President Clinton said, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina will surely bring the United States a little closer to the rest of the world.

But we cannot afford to be smug. The truth is that the events in the United States have sobering lessons not only for President Bush but for all politicians, whether in or out of office.


Following closely on the heels of Hurricane Katrina was Hurricane Rita. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, Rita gave rise to one of the greatest mass evacuation projects in the history of the United States. For miles upon miles the roads out of Texas and Galveston island were crowded with individuals who were desperately attempting to get out of the path of Rita. Many had learned from the experiences of Katrina and were determined not to allow what had befallen the residents of New Orleans, Mississippi and Louisiana to befall them. In the mad rush to escape the path of Hurricane Rita, oil prices reached record highs of US $5 per gallon in Texas and Galveston.


The lessons of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita should never be lost upon us. Both hurricanes demonstrated that our best defence against natural disaster is our level of preparedness.

We must adopt a new attitude to disaster preparedness. We must learn to listen closely to weather reports and advisories. It is also important that we get to know the members of various disaster committees for the respective villages and districts. We must treat all notices to evacuate from areas prone to flooding and sea surges seriously. It is also important that we pay greater attention to where we choose to locate our homes and the type of houses that we build. More must be done to ensure that the building code is introduced and enforced. We should no longer treat insurance coverage for our homes and property as a luxury but rather as a necessity. We must also attempt to strength our disaster response mechanisms.

In recent times the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) has done much to sensitize the Saint Lucian public as to the dangers of natural disasters and for the need to be prepared. However, this must be an ongoing process as there is much to be done to change attitudes and behaviour to disasters. We must remain vigilant in the face of more active hurricane seasons, the advent of more powerful storms and other natural disasters.


The Government is doing its part. We have invested heavily in projects to alleviate the problems of flooding in the coastal villages of Dennery and Anse La Raye and the in the city of Castries. The Government has also established satellite warehouses throughout the island to house essential supplies in the advent of a major disaster. Gabion baskets have also been used to reinforce river banks island wide and other areas prone to land slippages. I really hope that the value of these investments would now be better appreciated.


The impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will not be felt only in the United States. Rest assured that we too will feel it. We have already experienced the erratic movements in oil prices. It is expected that insurance premiums will increase. Consequently, the cost of providing insurance coverage to safeguard property will also increase. This is a new cost we will have to bear.

I expect too that there will be shortages of building materials. As you know, we import building materials from Miami. The available supply of building materials may well be diverted to the affected states. Scarcities may occur, and with it increases in prices. This will affect us especially now that demand for building materials in Saint Lucia is at an all time high.

Life goes on, so too the unexpected challenges.


By the way, the hurricane season is not yet over. So do not get complacent. We still have another month to go.

So, be on your guard and keep on praying.

Until next week, take care and God bless.


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