Drowning in incompetence

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -


THE RECENT prolonged rainfall (and Paria tragedy) proved once again that incompetence, institutional lethargy and corruption aren't victimless crimes.

We say it all the time:, "Imagine what would happen if a hurricane hits this country!"

Well, you can open your eyes now. The sustained rainfall inundating the country over roughly four consecutive days triggered extreme flooding and widespread infrastructural damage on a scale that challenges any similar occurrence in living memory.

Still, there has always been a foreshadowing of the devastation that was to come.

In 2018, vast swathes of the country were drowned after a period of rainfall that, in hyperbolic comparison to what's been experienced in recent weeks, was spit from a hummingbird. On that occasion, those affected by the deluge were left largely to fend for themselves.

Ordinary folks and the business community mobilised to provide relief and rescue. Their efforts, celebrated by PM Rowley at the time, only magnified the conspicuous, perplexing absence of the State's response. It was a failure of epic proportions – one destined to be outdone this week.

The PM, who has been dipping in and out of some sort of pre-retirement suspended animation, emerged briefly to issue a statement warning of the grave weather – after the weather had already arrived. He maintained radio silence thereafter and was reported to be out of the country; presumably in some jurisdiction where there's no internet, and golf courses stretching as far as the eye can see.

The saga-boy former attorney general held local-government news conferences at which he was flanked by equally pointless Cabinet colleagues. These briefings were meant to convey the impression that the Government had a co-ordinated disaster plan in the offing.

Not surprisingly, no evidence ever emerged on the ground to suggest any plan of attack. All the co-ordination and brainpower, it seems, went into staging news conferences and PR site visits.

While there were signs of government work crews clearing roads blocked by landslides and fallen trees, for the most part citizens across the country were on their own.

The Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government sent out notifications of centres where people could park their cars, away from encroaching floodwaters. By the time these notifications were dispatched, most of the affected areas were already cut off by flooding. Many of the cars that could have been spared were already submersibles.

But then, that's such a Trini thing to do – send get-well-soon cards to the deceased.

As reporters polled drenched flood victims for accounts of the deluge, the refrain among all of them was the same – they saw no one in authority, no army, no fire service and no rescue operation. Same old story. All the footage circulating online and coverage from media houses showed the State was a no-show. Once again, what we saw were citizens in their private boats, kayaks and jet skis evacuating flood victims or distributing relief supplies.

In flood-ravaged Mayaro, MP Rushton Paray begged for assistance from the Coast Guard and the Defence Force. Floodwaters had risen in devastated areas by as much as ten feet, well beyond the capabilities and resources of the regional corporation. Nearly four days after the worst of the weather had already been delivered, stricken areas in Mayaro and its environs had neither sight nor sound of the state rescue and response apparatus.

Also four days in, the ODPM had the testicular temerity to announce a co-ordinated effort involving the Coast Guard, fire service, rural development and other state agencies to offer relief to residents in Bamboo Settlement No 2. Quite late out of the starting blocks, the ODPM practically boasted of having added two whole dinghies to the already operational armada of civilian watercraft. It was painfully clear to those most affected that 2018 had come and gone with the authorities having learned precious little about disaster response and mitigation.

As clouds darkened the skies for days, pouring misery onto anguish, there were arguments back and forth online – climate change vs regular old weather.

It doesn't matter what you believe. The one irrefutable truth is: we remain abysmally unprepared for extreme weather events of any provenance. The authorities learn nothing, so our suffering grows, proportionately to the severity of nature's lessons.

There have been many dry, or, more appropriately wet, runs for the cataclysm that happened over four terrible days. As citizens, we can rescue ourselves from natural disasters, but can we rescue ourselves from the unnatural calamity of failed governance?


"Drowning in incompetence"

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