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The challenges continue

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The Soufriere volcano has gone out of its explosive mode but is still active as noted by a series of earthquakes not felt by humans, but recorded by instruments monitoring its behaviour.

There might possibly not be any explosions like those of a few weeks ago.  Even, given that, if things are not carefully handled we might find ourselves in continuing rough times. I am referring to the resettlement of persons who had been dislocated by its earlier explosive path. Then, over all of this is the Covid-19 pandemic that can affect not only our physical lives but our economic livelihood and style of living.

     Judging by the remarks of some of the evacuees I am of the impression that there was no proper consultation with the people from the Orange Zone who are asked to leave the shelters and return home by June 1. Some are suggesting that there is still too much ash around. This comes particularly from persons living in Chateaubelair and FitzHughes; but they are exceptions to those from the Orange Zone who are asked to vacate the shelters.  I raise this to question the kind of communication that exists, and the apparent lack of consultation. Some residents of the Red Zone are under the impression that they are soon going to be asked to leave the shelters. Again the official statement is that by next Tuesday only persons living below the river, that is including Georgetown, will be asked to return. It is hoped that by then all the necessary cleaning will be done.

     There are apparently gangs doing cleaning in the different areas. Are these gangs made up of people from those areas? I have heard that ash is being piled up at the side of the roads. Do we know how the ash will be disposed of and by whom and when?  Are persons given assistance in cleaning the ash from their homes and provided with the wherewithal to do so? Apart from the ash, is there any other damage to homes in the Orange Zone? One suspects that it will be weeks before persons in the Red Zone, north of the river, will be allowed to return home. Before this, will they be facilitated to inspect their properties and that this be taken into account before they are given the all clear to return home? I hear people asking if the all clear to return home was given by the volcanologists. But this is not their responsibility. They advise the government which then takes whatever action is necessary.

     It appears that short and medium term support will be given to people returning home. This includes monetary production support for farmers and fishermen. That will obviously take them back to square one. Is there anything in place to assist them in moving beyond that?  I have stated for some time now that the persons who had been evacuated must be part of whatever decisions are to be made about return, resettlement and rehabilitation. They must not be allowed to sit back and await instructions from above.  Discuss with them whatever decisions are being made and the reasons for those decisions and get them on board while taking into account the concerns they have.

     Covid-19 remains a problem, having affected some of the shelters and also a few students who have returned to face to face classes.  Moreover persons, including those who were in the shelters, I was told, were not prepared to be tested or to be vaccinated. I remain convinced that we went about this in the wrong way. There is need to listen to and address peoples’ concerns and fears. They should not be insulted and treated like fools. Reluctance to take the vaccines is world-wide. I have just seen where Hong Kong might have to dump millions of vaccines because of peoples’ reluctance. Let us find ways of dialoguing with people and addressing their concerns rather than issuing threats about losing jobs or privileges which could even be counter- productive.  It really should not be business as usual!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian