Hurricane Season 2016 begins but we are definitely not prepared
This year's hurricane season starts on Wednesday, 1st June but the consensus among environmentalists and disaster risk management experts is that Dominica is even more vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms than it was in August 2015 when Tropical Storm Erika caused more than a billion dollars in damage, killed dozens and wiped out the village of Petite Savanne. This is definitely not good enough since the scars left by Erika are so raw and fresh.
Although the 2016 hurricane season officially begins on Wednesday, the appearance of Hurricane Alex in January in the northern Atlantic demonstrates the erratic nature of hurricane and the absolute need to be prepared all year round to reduce the impact of these disasters.
This is very critical because the 2016 hurricane season is expected to be busier than storm seasons of the past three years. According to researchers at Colorado State University, including veteran hurricane forecaster Dr. William Gray, the Atlantic will have a near-average season in 2016.The CSU report forecasts 13 named storms in the Atlantic this season. Five of those could be hurricanes, and two of those could be major hurricanes. A major hurricane is a Category 3 or stronger storm. An average Atlantic hurricane season, according to NOAA, has 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
As the Sun reported recently, Dominicans seem to have adopted a laissez- faire attitude to preparation for hurricanes. Almost everyone, it seems, waits until the forecasters predict a direct hit on Dominica and then they rush to the supermarkets and gas stations. That, of course, is not good enough.
Given our experiences over the years, the most traumatic being Hurricane David in 1979 and Erika in 2015, one would expect Dominica to be much better prepared for the impact of hurricanes and other natural disasters. But most islands of the Caribbean, including Dominica, seem to have adopted a fatalistic attitude towards hurricanes. They blow our way every year anyway so there is not much, we seem to have concluded, that we can do about them.
But we are wrong to think that way and based on our record of poor management of hazards, Dominica may be in for a rude awakening in 2016. The point we wish to make is that our laissez- faire attitude to disaster management is not due to a lack of knowledge and experience. We seem to be devoid of the political will to take the necessary action to be better prepared for the impact of natural disasters caused by hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanoes. It would appear that we give serious thought to natural disasters only at the point when disasters are about to strike but during the rest of the year we ignore essential institutions such as the Office of Disaster Preparedness. That office was recently stripped of its experienced technical staff just before the 2016 season.
In spite of the fact that hurricanes have become a statistical certainty in the region our governments have not prepared as adequately as one would expect. For instance, adequate insurance coverage for the tourism sector, or for any sector for that matter, is still a major concern. Additionally, for decades agricultural economists have suggested various insurance schemes for agriculture, the life blood of our economies, but our efforts to implement them have been sporadic and inadequate. WINCROP, the old Windward Islands banana insurance scheme, has died along with the banana industry and few people are talking about that insurance scheme these days as if the banana industry was the only sector of the agriculture industry that needed insurance protection.
Of course, most persons will agree with the fact that we have made tremendous strides in the use of early warning systems which have developed rapidly due to advances in modern technology such as computers and other communications technology. We have also developed a network of international partners who are apparently always prepared to provide hurricane relief to ameliorate human suffering. But it is foolhardy to depend too much on these agencies, given the current economic crisis and the increased competition for international aid.
Fortunately, not every country in the region has taken that fatalistic attitude towards natural disasters. Though it has not been hit by a major hurricane for more than 50 years, Barbados, for example, seems to be taking serious lessons from the misfortune of its neighbours by improving its disaster management systems.
In addition, as we have stated on numerous occasions, we need to look towards Cuba for lessons in the practical application of the national disaster planning. In fact, the United Nations disaster relief agency has described Cuba as the best prepared country for natural disasters in the world. The elements of the island's preparedness include extensive training, community planning and intensive simulation drills. In addition, Cuba has a world-class meteorological institute with branches in 15 provinces.
We need to learn from these countries and from our most recent experiences and our government and village councils must take the lead.