Click here to print page

Good neighbourliness and self-preservation

Monday, September 11, 2017

For many Jamaicans the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma on the islands of the eastern and northern Caribbean and continuing on to Florida represents nightmarish reminders of the horrendous Hurricane Gilbert in September 1988.

For while Jamaicans have experienced terrifying storms in the years since then, there was nothing quite like Gilbert.

We remember then Prime Minister Edward Seaga — having flown over the island — likening the situation to the utter destruction of the Japanese city of Hiroshima following the dropping of an atom bomb by the Americans in 1945, as World War II approached its end.

Back in 1988, some 54 Jamaicans lost their lives as a result of Gilbert, infrastructural damage ran into billions of dollars and many had to wait months before electric power was restored to their homes.

So then, Jamaicans old enough to remember Gilbert, and even subsequent disasters such as Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Dean, do have some knowledge of the trauma, sense of loss and hopelessness now being experienced by people in places like Barbuda, Anguilla, St Martin, St Maarten, the US and British Virgin Islands, Cuba, et al.

As is always the case in such situations, the Jamaican Government must identify the best way to help our Caribbean neighbours. As is well established in times of disasters, such assistance can't be haphazard or uncoordinated. It must be properly focused in response to expressed need.

We expect that in coming days the Jamaican Government, no doubt acting in concert with Caricom partners, will be able to give a helping hand and will also be informing people on how best to play their part as individuals, companies and agencies.

Crucially, care must also be taken to ensure that the welfare of Jamaicans in hurricane-ravaged areas gets due attention.

Jamaicans must also bear in mind that we are still only midway the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season which experts long ago predicted would be active and dangerous. Each citizen has a responsibility to store non-perishable food, water, medicines, and other essentials — just in case.

The destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma and by Hurricane Harvey in the southern United States last month and the recent earthquake in Mexico remind us of the extreme vulnerability of this region.

Indeed, in all the talk of slow economic growth the impact of disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes is often not properly factored, we believe.

Obviously, such natural disasters can't be prevented. Human ingenuity being what it is, that day may come, but not yet. However, people can help themselves by so protecting their immediate environment so that destructive impact is reduced.

So that to a landowner, for example, deciding whether or not to remove a forest from a steep hillside may seem like a small thing. But when the flood comes, that forest could be the buffer saving the house below along with its occupants.

Such small things can be the difference between life and death.