January 14, 2014

Observations on the response to our national tragedy

Tue Jan 14, 2013

This national disaster, which many have said is the worst in living memory, brought to the fore a wonderful spirit of community and generosity among our people.

This spirit was not confined to these shores, but evident also among Vincentians and friends in neighbouring islands, North America, the UK and other parts of the world.{{more}}

That initial outpouring of generosity by individuals, churches, organizations and businesses, by and large, continues today, and eases some of the burden of the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) in having to look after the day-to-day needs of those persons presently housed in shelters.

It is now almost three weeks since that fateful night on which lives were lost and the circumstances of hundreds of persons changed drastically.

Unfortunately, with the passage of time, there are some among us, who seem to be falling back into old attitudes and behaviours towards each other. There have been reports of uneven distribution, by some entities, of relief supplies in some areas, as well as the rejection of supplies by some who need it, depending on who is making the offer. There have also been reports of a tendency by some of our citizens to overstate their need and at the same time, understate how much help they have already received.

Unfortunately, this sort of behaviour among some of our people is fuelled by persons in our society who should know better, and by some of our leaders who, themselves, have displayed a rather divisive attitude in this whole exercise.

There is no denying the political capital to be gained or lost by those seeking election to national office, based on how their role in the relief effort is perceived. As a result, we have emerging, and being played out on radio, distasteful squabbles about the assistance given to families for the funerals of victims, the shipping of relief supplies and whose names are on which lists to receive relief supplies.

These storms in teacups are really not necessary and work to the detriment of the country and the whole relief effort. Those misunderstandings that do arise could be far more easily resolved if our political leaders listened less to rumour and started talking across political lines directly to each other, rather than at each other, by way of the various media.

Another cause for concern is the traumatizing effect on our people of repeatedly viewing photographs or videos of victims speaking of their experience/plight or expressing their grief.

Social media such as Facebook were fantastic in getting the message out quickly about what was taking place in St Vincent on Christmas Day, but now, victims and even those who were not directly affected, should be careful not to worsen, for themselves, the psychological effect of the disaster.