R. Rose
September 17, 2004
Hurricane Ivan

“It’s an ill wind which blows nobody good,” is an age-old saying. The truth in this is often revealed to us in strange forms, often quite literally. Take Hurricane Ivan for instance. While it is true that it is probably the most destructive hurricane to hit the Caribbean in recent times, it did have its positive effects, however unintentional. {{more}} Certainly where St Vincent and the Grenadines is concerned, it did help to crudely rouse us from the false sense of complacency in which we seemed to have become enveloped.
For some reason or reasons, unrelated to reality or a sound sense of reasoning Vincentians have been perpetuating the view that this country is “blessed.” Hence any hurricane warning, before Ivan at least, was brushed aside and dismissed with a curt “dat won’t hit us,”or “it can’t come here.” When Ivan came knocking, we began to awaken from that mis-placed sense of security. Not all of us as yet, but the suspense of last Tuesday’s waiting and the revelations of the tragedy of Grenada has at last brought reality closer home. Inspite of this, I have heard the story making the rounds that “Grenada is paying for what Grenadians did to Maurice Bishop!”
Natural disasters are as much a fact of life as they are a cause of death and destruction. There is not much that we can do to prevent this occurrence. But there is quite a lot that we can do to limit damage to life, limb and property. Ivan’s passage has raised a number of issues that we need to take seriously. There is the question of us and our relation with the environment as a matter of priority. Besides the damaging effect of wind and water, in one form or another, what we do to our environment determines to a great degree, the extent of devastation.
Our wanton destruction of forests, haphazard failure to follow sensible guidelines in our approach to construction, willy-nilly choices of location on which to build, reckless pollution and blockage of water courses, futile attempts to change nature’s handiwork in our favour, all rebound on us in times of disaster. Some, if not much of the worst effects of flooding, coastal battering or wind damage can be avoided if we would take the necessary steps. Instead we end up paying for our own selfishness.
Then there is disaster preparedness. Some countries are better or worse than others in this regard but generally we have a long way to go in the Caribbean. Participating in awareness campaigns, learning what to do in times of an emergency, building a sense of community spirit, all before the onset of a disaster, are necessary activities. Our responsibility towards ensuring proper shelters is a national one. We have an attitude that it is the government alone which must bear responsibility – not even the best government in the world, acting alone, can rebuild Grenada.
We all call for better emergency shelters, but what are we prepared to contribute to ensure that such shelters are there for our own benefit, for protecting our children in times of crisis? As citizens, members of the community, civil organisations, businesses etc., do we not all have a role to play? And for those who think they are “better off,” natural disasters do not always respect the privileged.
There is also the crucial issue of leadership in a crisis. It is not only a natural ability it is a skill which has to be honed, to be developed so that we can utilize it in times of need. Sometimes it can prove to be a very vital factor, a dividing line between survival and destruction. It is needed at all levels – in the home, the community, wider society and at national level.
As we respond positively to help in the rehabilitation of Grenada, we must use the opportunity to not just reflect on these and related issues, but also to begin to ACT on them, to prepare ourselves for such emergencies and to strengthen our bonds of solidarity and capacity for community action. We know not what lies ahead, but we can begin to prepare to meet even the worst circumstances to ensure our survival and the difficult tasks of rebuilding and rehabilitation.