April 13, 2021
Solidarity and humanitarianism Agriculture devastated by soufriere ash

WE CAN ALL FEEL PROUD of the response of thousands of Vincentians to our latest collective calamity, the violent eruption of La Soufriere volcano. It is even more heartening given the social and political climate of division which has persisted right up to the intervention “from below”.

From all reports we have been rising to the challenge, volunteering assistance in material and personal ways and helping to mobilize the Vincentian diaspora and others sympathetic to our cause to support the national effort. As has happened in the past, the common thread of adversity has brought out in us the positive qualities that our successes have been unable to do.

Our Prime Minister, the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), the dedicated health professionals, and all those in whatever spheres who have provided leadership and example, must be complimented, but let us never underestimate the quiet contribution of the unheralded. At a time when it is most needed, our spirit of solidarity has resurfaced.

Given previous experiences, it is still early days yet where the volcanic eruptions are concerned and no one knows how long we will be under the anvil. Our volcano, long identified with our national being, will take its own course and time, before it resettles. In the meantime, the level of not only physical destruction, but economic dislocation and social disruption will take their toll on a society already badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If we are to overcome all this, it is vital that we take time to fully understand and appreciate both our predicament and our continuing shortcomings in dealing with natural disasters. This is critical because in spite of positive responses, we are still largely reactive. Based on the comments of many evacuees and the customary panic buying of consumers, our preparation has been far from ideal. La Soufriere has given us ample warnings over the past few months, but have we heeded them?

Additionally, in spite of our strident emphasis on differences, the eruptions have once more indicated to us that we have much more in common as a people than the political differences which we have been promoting for too long now. This, of course does not mean that there is no room for differences of political opinion, but that in times of crisis, national interests must take precedence.

The spirit of volunteerism, of national and international solidarity must prevail. However it cannot be left up to national disasters and our heroic responses to them. This is where an organised and empowering approach to local government and community development, towards facilitating the growth, development and institutionalising the role of community and non-governmental organisations, as well as the formal integration of diaspora organisations can play an integral role.

Let us not allow this opportunity to slip, but build on these positives not only to combat the eruptions and COVID-19 but to forge a collective battle against poverty, ignorance and backwardness.