January 17, 2014

We should not be too quick to point fingers of blame

Fri Jan 17, 2014

It is unanimously agreed that the destructive floods which hit the Windward Islands of Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines for Christmas caught us all by surprise. True, we had weather forecasts of some rain, but what descended upon us was well beyond our imagination.{{more}}

In the wake of the floods, a swathe of criticism was aimed at the emergency organisations (NEMOs) in the islands and at the Caribbean’s state of readiness and preparedness for such events. Specifically, there have been accusations that the population was left with “no warning”.

Are these criticisms justified and with merit? Were the institutions who were accused fairly treated? Perhaps the answers to these questions have come in the form of a presentation made by a team of post-disaster assessors from the World Bank to government officials this week (see Cover story).

The World Bank officials did a comprehensive analysis of the storm and concluded that it was both “unpredictable and unforecastable”. They called the Christmas storm a “superstorm”, a “one in a hundred years” occurrence, comparable to hurricane Sandy of 2012 and arising from a merger of two trough systems moving in opposite directions.

These conclusions indicate that we were being unfair to the respective NEMOs in the islands. That is not to say that they are flawless or there are not holes in their armour of preparedness, but are we not sometimes too quick to pull the trigger without proof, too prone to play the “blame game”? Identified weaknesses of the emergency organisations and any that may be in the regional forecasting system certainly need to be identified and addressed, but we must be careful in casting aspersions.

In addition, we too often absolve ourselves of any responsibility for any disasters or tragedies. Let’s face it, Christmas Eve is not an occasion when we are really paying heed to any weather warnings. Our own experience told us that the hurricane season was long past. Yes, we might get rain from a trough, but we are accustomed to troughs and rain. After all, Christmas rain could only be “a blessing”.

It was a rude awakening for us all, an experience from which we must draw the appropriate lessons. It is not easy in today’s world to find close to $400 million for relief and rehabilitation. We certainly do not have those resources of our own. That is why we must be very grateful for international and regional response.