ST AUGUSTINE MP Khadijah Ameen is calling on government to establish a clear disaster management policy.
She said this was needed in light of its slow response to the effects of several tropical depressions and freak storms which have affected Trinidad and Tobago recently.
Speaking at the UNC’s weekly media briefing on Sunday, Ameen said the response to the recent severe weather by several government ministries and agencies tasked with dealing with disaster has been slow.
She said regional corporations across the country, which are the first responders, did not have basic equipment such as sandbags, power saws and tarpaulins.
“They are also challenged where manpower is concerned. CEOs have been told no overtime and no weekend work, which makes no sense. In some cases they don’t have funds to put fuel in equipment and vehicles. So when disasters happen, they are quickly overwhelmed and are not able to reach all the areas that need help,” Ameen said.
She said the lack of funding being experienced by the corporations was due to government deliberately suppressing funds.
“In the last budget, funds were allocated to corporations based on government’s projected revenue. The government over the past few years has been withholding the release of funds so that even though the corporations were allocated a certain amount, the government would report a savings when in truth they had not released the money for routine things like purchasing materials and equipment.”
She said while government has told corporations to take a whole-of-corporation approach when dealing with disasters, it is not only the disaster management units that are underfunded, but the entire corporation.
Ameen also said while the ODPM has advertised a list of shelters, many do not have shelter managers, food and emergency supplies, training for staff, and most importantly, no covid19 protocols in place.
“Just recently we had two people who wanted to be evacuated to the St Augustine South Community Centre and they could not be accommodated. We are calling on the line minister to ensure these shelters are more than public relations and are ready to receive people if needed.”
She questioned whether the National Self-Help Commission was fully able to fulfil its mandate to assist people whose homes had been damaged by disasters. She said there was a freak storm in her constituency on July 9, following which 22 people applied for the minor repairs grant from the commission.
“Only seven received purchase orders. The other 15 were told that while their case was needy and their situation was approved, no funding was available and those people still have tarpaulins over parts of their roofs. The rain continues to fall and they are experiencing further damage to their homes.
"We are calling on the commission to state if they can do what they are mandated to do and on the line minister to ensure that the commission can treat with people who have experienced damage and need assistance to repair their homes.”
Ameen also said assessments of damage following disasters are usually carried out by the regional corporations and the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services.
“We have not been seeing the ministry’s personnel on the field, and we are calling on the line minister to join with the corporations so we can be clear who is responsible for assessment for seeing the damage and for providing and processing grants for people who have lost furniture, appliances, food supplies, schoolchildren who have lost books and uniforms, in the floods and the freak storms. Many people have lost their jobs during the pandemic and cannot afford to replace these items.”
Ameen called on government to account for the US$2.4 million recently received from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility. She said the money must be used for the purpose for which it is given, and asked how it will be used to assist those affected by flooding.