Friday, November 12, 2010

Hurricane Tomas - St. Lucia, 2 weeks on

5pm today will mark 2 weeks since the Tropical Storm Warning went out on St. Lucia’s cellphones. The question why another text message did not go out at 11pm when the NOAA site sent out the message that the warning was upgraded to a Hurricane Warning, remains un-answered…why we didn’t use the old-fashioned sirens? We haven’t gotten to that level of post-analysis yet.
Being involved in the relief effort gives you an insight into how things work and also how they don’t work, and it is fair to say that St. Lucia has struggled in the wake of Hurricane Tomas, to organize the analysis of damage and the relief effort.
But, it also must be stated, because we also know that good news rarely gets the same level of coverage as bad, that there has been much positive to report on.
There’s no doubt that many people and groups from diverse interests have mobilized to get aid to those in need, but there has been a very wide lack of recognition of the fact that ‘central command’ – ie NEMO – needs to be informed regularly, what’s coming in, what’s going out, who exactly, it’s going to –this is still an area that people involved in these efforts are falling short on.
You could argue that it’s not critical, the critical need is to get to those in need food an water, but the other side of the coin is that despite all these diverse efforts, aid is still scarce and so, ensuring duplication doesn’t happen and at the same time that persons in the far reaches are also remembered…that’s critical. And in case it’s not yet clear….that won’t happen without good communication and co-ordination.
Yesterday an unfortunate outcome of a generous gesture made regional news – it seems one or two Barbadian fishing vessels brought across some much needed drinking water. They somehow docked at the one unsecured dock and started to offload – water to go to NEMO – and then they announced ‘and this water is for all st. lucians’.  Well, melee instantly happened and fighting ensued. You see in all of this, the pretty much unscathed north of the island has ended up with the most critical water shortage, so people were reaching a point of desperation for clean drinking water.
On the flip side – and I wish I had a picture of this – up at Hill 20, the Babonneau water catchment where WASCO had installed a bunch of stand-pipes, individuals carrying their armfuls of little 1l bottles to get a little ‘kwas’ (bit) of water have been pretty patiently – at least without more than a grumble – waiting for the big water trucks to get through filling their tanks.  I’ve not heard of any reported incident of fighting there even though it’s obvious there was a need for some authority to be there managing who goes to which pipe.
As mentioned in yesterday’s post – there’s a good Lucian spirit in many people.  One aspect of that is that we’re often prepared to put up with inconveniences without a protest, and in times like this, it does allow for our scarce resources to be directed where they seem more needed. 
Patient queuing in Soufriere (photo Timothy Prescott)
What it unfortunately often leads into is that once the pressure is off and a level of normality is returned, we forget about speaking up, forget about participating in the discussions that are vital if we are to do better next time.

Last night - after nothing short of Herculean efforts by WASCO and Min Of Communcations and Works workers, water started flowing from the Ciceron water treatment plant. A friend told me it reached as far as Trouya in Marisule last night. My husband in Soufriere told me he woke up to water in the pipes at 5am this morning. I wonder if a lot of people realize how much it took to get back even this level of water supply in this short time?
So, as we head on towards recovery, as we look at rebuilding lives and homes of those worst affected, people, please don’t allow that Lucian spirit to become complacent. Remember, there is much that needs to be done for months to come.
A disaster has a way of presenting opportunities – it’s up to us whether we use this to build back a ‘likkle ting’ or to build a better future.
Way up in Fond St. Jacques, life goes on...(photo Timothy Prescott)
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