Put hurricane readiness on front burner


(Barbados TODAY Editorial) — This is the time of year when people across the Caribbean gird themselves for the possibility that a destructive weather system could literally ruin their lives and reverse years of hard work and expense building a home and an economy.

June 1 marks the start of the Atlantic Hurricane season. The Caribbean is paradise, but it can also be a place of fury and destruction if caught in the path of a hurricane.

When leaders around the world meet to discuss the effects of climate change, for us in the Caribbean it is not an esoteric discussion of matters but a real life experience.

We know how one hurricane season can result in  catastrophic damage to countries. Some of our regional neighbours have had the misfortune of experiencing direct hits by more than one system during a single hurricane season. It has happened to Dominica, The Bahamas, Cuba and Jamaica.

Caribbean countries, including Barbados, have been strident in their calls for greater resources and attention to be paid to the impact of climate change on small island developing states (SIDS).

Though there has been a positive shift in the sensitivity to climate change by political leaders, there are still too many who are ambivalent about its danger.

There are some irrefutable facts that we can no longer reject.  The planet is getting warmer with the average temperature increase impacting food crop production, and the availability of fresh water for consumption and agricultural use. Warmer temperatures are also negatively impacting human health and our natural environment.

When it comes to the effects of rising temperatures on weather systems in the Caribbean, there is no denying that the rise is leading to more intensive systems that cause greater damage.

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, for example, produced Irma and Maria, two killer systems that changed many lives in the Caribbean.

Hurricane Irma, which reached Category 5 status, destroyed 90 percent of the homes in Barbuda. In Dominica, more than 70,000 residents were affected by Hurricane Maria, with several deaths reported.

Statistics from the United States Fourth National Climate Assessment show 2017 as a particularly difficult year for this region with Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, British and US Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, Saint Maarten, and Turks and Caicos all affected by Category 4 and 5 hurricanes.

While we in Barbados have had our slight brushes with weather events, we have been largely spared from direct hits from systems that have reached Category 2, 3, 4 or 5 in recent memory.

That situation has, admittedly, lulled too many of our citizens into a false sense of security and an unwise level of complacency. As has been demonstrated by Tropical Storm Tomas in 2010, it does not take a severe weather system to upend our lives. In fact, there are still some home owners who have not completely recovered from that storm.

In the circumstances, we urge Barbadians to heed the calls to prepare for the possibility that we could be hit by a hurricane this year. Weather forecasters have been unable to say for sure what type of season to expect as two natural phenomena collide, the season could go either way.

Director of the Department of Emergency Management (DEM), Kerry Hinds and her small army of volunteers and personnel in the department, continue their efforts to build awareness and urge action at the household and community levels.

As the DEM recently completed its audit of emergency shelters, she implored Barbadians to undertake as much retrofitting as possible of their homes. The Minister of Home Affairs Mr Wilfred Abrahams has wisely called on homeowners to seek home insurance coverage.

We fully appreciate that the last few years have been difficult. The island was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation is through the roof, energy prices have been rising and trips to the supermarkets may no longer bring joy.

Despite this, an incremental approach to hurricane preparation is likely the best method.

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