House  on lower Morne Bruce damaged by Hurricane Maria
House on lower Morne Bruce damaged by Hurricane Maria

Last weekend Dominica felt the impact of the smallest storm of a decade as Tiny Beryl, as the press named that tropical storm, caused so much chaos here that we are now more convinced that our country is woefully unprepared to withstand any type of storm.

The confusion that Beryl caused was not due to physical or structural damage because there was so very little rain and wind from the tropical storm. But, guess what, Government instituted a state of emergency and declared a 24-hour curfew, DOWASCO shut down its water system and shoppers emptied supermarket shelves.

We believe that the curfew and the state of emergency of this week was an overreaction to the abysmal failure of the security system that the authorities allowed during and after the category five Hurricane Maria on 18 September, 2017.

By the way, the Government of Dominica has virtually ignored the request of the private sector for an independent inquiry into widespread looting that occurred because of that breakdown of security. Government, as far as the business sector is concerned, is behaving as if the wanton looting of last September did not occur. Maybe the findings of that inquiry would have informed the public and private sectors about how to avoid a repeat of the "looting hurricane". Maybe the inquiry would show that there was no need for a curfew during Tropical Storm Beryl and that a state of emergency is like treating the symptom and not the disease. Are we going to have a curfew every time we are threatened by a tropical storm and have we assessed the cost of curfews in terms of loss of production and are there cheaper methods to stop looting?

Of course, we are not denigrating the need for preparation but it appears that a 24-hour curfew during a tropical storm is like using a sledge hammer to kill a fly.

Our over-reaction illustrates more than anything else that the island has much to do before it can face any storm with confidence that our system is even slightly robust.

We hate to say it but our leaders in Government, local government and the private sector, of a few decades ago and even today, have failed and we are all paying the price.

Why do we say that? It is painfully obvious that if Government had enforced the building code there would be no need for panic when a tiny storm is pending; if our engineers had constructed bridges that are strong enough to withstand storms we would sleep comfortably when there is are threats of Beryl-like weather systems; if we had steadfastly enforced environmental standards such as the cutting of trees near rivers or on mountain sides or the proper management of solid waste our environment would be much more robust and resilient.

Apparently Dominica has failed the test so it must take the exam again. Unfortunately, there will be more Beryl-like storms in 2018 because we are just five weeks into the new hurricane season. Unofficial predictions for the season have shown that the 2018 hurricane period could be worse than the extremely terrible 2017 during which Hurricane Maria's destruction set Dominica back more than fifty years.

Isn't it amazing that less than a year after Maria that the first hurricane of the Atlantic Hurricane season threatened Dominica? Understandably, Dominicans are scared and that suggests our psychologists and psychiatrists must undertake a series of mass counselling exercises to help them cope with hurricanes or tropical storms.

But, as we said earlier, the best way to cope with these increasing devastating natural disasters, made worst by the climate change phenomenon, is to prepare like we have never been prepared. And we are not advising only individuals to step up on preparations but government as well. For instance, a few months ago we were pleased to hear a government environmentalist say rather forcefully, that the nation does not have hurricane shelters - we have buildings that are designated as shelters but we do not have appropriate hurricane shelters.

As Beryl illustrated, the 2018 hurricane season will be especially painful for Dominicans who have not had the opportunity to build back better, as the government slogan suggests, because rebuilding after Maria has not been as easy as we have been led to believe. Dominica is still a major "tarpaulin country" and many residents are still without electricity and internet services. And that condition, for a large number of Dominicans, could continue for a few years.

Apart from Hurricanes Maria and David, recent events illustrate the fact that despite its traumatic experiences Dominica is not adequately prepared for even the mildest of natural disasters. And there have been other examples in the past.

Over the last decade hurricanes and tropical storms have done untold damage to the agriculture and tourism sectors in particular. But given our experiences over the years, the most traumatic being Hurricane David in 1979, TS Erika in 2015 and Maria in 2017, one would expect Dominica to be much better prepared for the impact of hurricanes and other natural disasters. But the island seem to have adopted a fatalistic attitude towards hurricanes and other natural disasters.

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, landslides, 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 and systems. And we pay dearly for that neglect.