By the time this wave of natural disaster is done with our region it will take millions — perhaps billions — of dollars for us to recover.
With Hurricane Irma expected to begin battering North America today, the death toll is likely to rise. Certainly, severe damage and disruption are to be expected from the storm. Category 4 remains a seriously dangerous system. And worse yet, there will be no let-up for all the areas already affected by Irma as Hurricane Jose makes its passage.
Amid all of this, Mexico has suffered its most devastating earthquake in centuries. In addition to the possibility of aftershocks, a tsunami warning was issued.
It will take a substantial regional and international effort to get things back in order by the time these disasters are done with us. In a time of fraught international relations, of threats of nuclear meltdowns, of withdrawal from regional economic blocks, solidarity with our fellow man is needed.
Relief efforts will encounter serious difficulties. The complete battering of buildings, disruption of major infrastructure, and a breakdown of communication will pose the most immediate challenges.
Trinidad and Tobago must stand ready to do what it can in the circumstances. The deployment of a helicopter to Antigua and Barbuda is a good start. We must also be ready to cooperate with regional Caricom bodies that are tasked with recovery efforts.
But the State is only one actor. Civil society also has a role to play given the social ties that bind us to our neighbours. Already yesterday there were signs of private organisations and NGOs mobilising relief efforts. They are asking for items such as canned goods, hygiene products, toiletries, clothes, bedding and baby supplies. Two examples of such efforts are being run by Is There Not A Cause, and Habitat for Humanity.
Additionally, the Antigua and Barbuda Government has requested that those who are able and willing to house Barbudans who have been evacuated to contact a special hotline. It is also accepting donations to the Barbuda Relief Fund. We urge all to contribute what they can to these efforts.
But we also call for vigilance when making donations. Ensure assistance is being directed at bona fide organisations or efforts. It is unfortunate that even in times like these, some unscrupulous individuals will seek to take advantage of the good intentions of the citizenry.
Amid these disasters, however, is an important message about the nature of the world we now live in. Global efforts at aid are a shining reminder of the good side of the human race. It is comforting to know that in times of need we can depend on our fellow man for help.
This is particularly important as the world faces a rising tide of inward-looking nationalism. The racist ideology underpinning many of the movements that have backed US President Donald Trump now threatens to infect the planet with its vitriol.
Internationally acclaimed novelist John Le Carré summed it up this week, saying, “I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930s, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary.”
Disasters, however, remind us of how much we need each other. How small our differences appear in the wake of a hurricane.