April 23, 2013

Our special vulnerability demands heightened awareness

Tue Apr 23, 2013

Small island states, like St Vincent and the Grenadines and others in the Caribbean, have a disproportional vulnerability to natural disasters.

The relative underdevelopment of our infrastructure, such as roads, buildings and bridges, the remoteness of some communities and the small size of our economies, affect the extent to which we are affected when a disaster does strike, and how quickly and effectively the country and individuals can respond.{{more}}

A 1997 United Nations report showed that of the 25 countries that suffered the greatest number of natural disasters during the 1970s and 1980s, 13 were small island developing states.

Just last Friday, two lives were lost in Dominica, after a vehicle in which three men were travelling, fell into a large 100-foot deep sinkhole, which had suddenly opened up, following heavy rains over the previous few days.

St Lucians also had a scare over the weekend, when passengers in a boat travelling between St Lucia and Martinique could not be accounted for in the choppy seas on Sunday. Thankfully, everyone was found alive and are said to be recuperating in hospital.

We here in SVG, not only share the vulnerability of other small islands to hurricanes, heavy rains, landslides, earthquakes, choppy seas and tsunamis, but we also have a volcano to contend with.

Efforts are being made by different agencies to awaken the consciousness of our residents to how our actions can increase our vulnerability to natural disasters, what we can do to reverse the effects of environmental degradation and how we can prepare ourselves so that when a natural disaster does strike, we know how to respond to minimize the effects.

Just last week, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), in collaboration with the Seismic Unit of the University of the West Indies, held a week of activities to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the 1979 eruption of La Soufriere. The activities were largely educational, and targetted young people, who were not born when the volcano last erupted.

Other agencies like the Forestry Department and the Fire Department of the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force have been playing their part, especially in the area of environmental conservation. During this year’s dry season, there was cause for concern, as a record number of bush fires were set by some deviant individuals among us. The bush fires, which took place mainly on our hillsides, stripped the soil of its cover, making the soil prone to leaching and slipping, once the rains begin.

Just two years ago, we had a frightening experience in the North Central Windward area. The destructive power of torrential rains, flashfloods and landslides was demonstrated in a very vivid manner. Millions of dollars of damage was done to homes, roads, bridges, forestry areas and recreation sites.

Hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and high surf over the years have similarly illustrated our vulnerability. Our particular vulnerability, therefore, necessitates proportional concern and action on the part of each and every Vincentian. Let us each play our part.