If there was any doubt about the need for changes at the Office for Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) then the remarks of deputy CEO Dave Williams put them to rest.
“You see this as a big thing? For us this is a small thing,” Williams said at a media conference held, apparently, in response to what he regarded as a trivial matter. His stance – however contextualized – was grossly insensitive, inapt, counter-productive and reflected poorly on the rest of the organization he represents. And more so coming from a retired colonel.
The ODPM is here to provide assistance and guidance to all citizens and during all forms of natural disasters.
That the common occurrence of heavy rainfall can trigger catastrophic damage and loss of life is a fact that is well-known.
The frequent occurrence of devastating rainfall is all the more reason for the ODPM to treat heavy showers seriously.
Is Williams seriously suggesting the ODPM goes to sleep and only wakes up when it sees an approaching hurricane?
If he is, then the ODPM needs to wake up.
And it needs new leadership to help it shake off its slumber. The débâcle of the ODPM’s initial response was bad enough. But equally appalling is Williams’ lack of contrition in the face of the clear evidence of the tremendous suffering and damage caused by the flood waters in a wide range of communities across the nation.
Assuming it is true the ODPM did not know about or did not foresee flooding, by Friday it was clear families were displaced, thousands of dollars were lost due to crop damage and lives were at risk due to flood waters.
A glib remark saying the rain was “no small thing” is not what the national community needed from a person who heads the main state agency which we all must trust if something goes wrong. How can anyone have confidence that agency if it so casually denigrates suffering?
For these latest words alone, Williams should go. In sharp contrast to the churlish stance of the deputy CEO is the generous ethos of ordinary citizens who have stepped up to the mantle to provide critical assistance to those in need.
Today we salute these brave citizens who have – at considerable personal risk – braved flood waters to assist persons in difficulty.
A good example is the one captured on video showing a group of individuals at Caparo assisting a girl who was at risk of drowning in flood waters.
Other citizens who have been fortunate enough to have not been badly affected have begun collection drives, mobilizing vital supplies needed by families and communities.
Even when the flooding began, citizens and civic society organizations were active on social media, doing their best to keep each other informed about the developments as they were happening.
These are all just some of the ways in which ordinary people have been helping each other to face extraordinary circumstances.
At a time when there is so much that calls for improvement in the country, when sometimes divisive attitudes and rhetoric can seem to win the day, it is heartening to know that when it matters, we Trinbagonians can reach out and be our brother’s keeper. That is no small thing.