The year just past was marked by serious flooding. One of the biggest challenges ahead in 2018 will be to learn lessons from the 2017 experience and to do better. The plight of Barrackpore residents who have endured three waves of flooding in the space of six months is a reminder of our vulnerability to average seasonal weather. We must adopt measures to minimise incidents of flooding and we have to take a hard look at our systems. We still have bad habits, our water courses remain clogged, our drainage poorly designed, and our land use in disarray. We need to be better prepared in the event of more severe weather patterns.
One place the State must start is filling the post of Chief Executive Officer at the Office for Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM). Effective leadership at the ODPM is essential if we are to avoid a repeat of the disastrous Divali weekend response. Certainly the post-holder must avoid the mis-steps of the deputy CEO Dave Williams who trivialised the suffering experienced by the victims of flooding. The State may also want to examine how the current arrangements for disaster response can be streamlined or improved in any way. In a world where natural threats and the possibility of national security incidents have placed unprecedented demands on our agencies, it is important for all protocols to be constantly reviewed.
Despite the damage and trauma caused by our heavy rainfall, we have been relatively lucky when compared with our Caribbean neighbours. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was deadly, destructive and in some instances crippling. It featured 17 named storms, making it the fifth-most active season since 1851. This year’s season may not be as active. But according to current predictions, it could be substantial. Twelve named storms and seven hurricanes are forecast.
Countries in our region need to get together and to continue to support each other — both in terms of humanitarian aid and the sharing of resources — to face these challenges. It remains to be seen whether international agencies will deliver on pledges to address the need for special financing to handle the aftermath of 2017. Certainly the region will have to maintain a unified diplomatic stance and continue to lobby for a more equitable arrangement in a world where smaller, vulnerable countries continue to pay the price for larger countries that have failed to address climate change.