Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hurricane Tomas - St. Lucia we Still Have Much to Do

Hurricane Tomas relief is still going on here in St. Lucia, but like many, many of the volunteers, I had to get back to work – wading through a backlog of stuff that now has ‘URGENT’ stamped all over it!
So, here’s a bit of an update. There are still A LOT of people homeless here in St. Lucia – in Fond St. Jacques, Marc, Bexon, and numerous other areas less often mentioned – such as right in the outskirts of the City of Castries.
In Bexon, the school is still cut off by several feet of mud where the bridge to the school once was and the school was already prone to flooding so…can’t help but think there should be a rethink of that location.
Now, I know I have advocated leaving off criticism while we deal with the real pressing issues of people in need, but of course, sometimes you need to do both simultaneously and one thing glared at me at the start of this week; you see, I’m self employed, and don’t yet have one of those income streams that come without constant work - so if I don’t work, I don’t earn…I have to get back to work. Others who were in seriously key positions had to return to work because their key members of their work team/on a contract with a due date/boss said so….you know, variety of good reasons…what it seriously highlighted for me is that we REALLY don’t have our Disaster Response worked out.
Digging the School Out of Mud, Soufriere (photo Tim Prescott)
Tourists Shopping Happily in Soufriere at Image Tree (photo Tim Prescott)
The primary challenge, after the topography of our ‘hills and valleys with a thick layer of mud’ island, has been lack of coordination and information flow. I’m not even so bothered about the lack of international coverage – in the scale of things our tragedy was a small dot and our media…mostly…are not super-proactive in getting the news out.
What bothers me is that everywhere you look in this disaster response, you find a mix of people in various stages of, ok, it’s not quite confusion, but it sure isn’t coordination either; and I have to follow that immediately by saying in that mix are persons who really have been doing a stellar job in the circumstances and out of this, many good little systems for making it as sure as possible that response is coordinated…but it has shone a glaring light on something that is also a genuine small island problem.
We are short of people.
Our pool of qualified and experienced people is too small – when you take one from one area and apply them to another, it is too much of a strain…they are missed too much.
So now, when we are so far from being recovered, some of the key people who have been the glue, straining to hold this all together have to return to work…
Youth In Action - new Youth Group meets with Shelter Head, Fond St. Jacques (photo Tim Prescott)
We are also short of infrastructure.
People have to leave the relative security of sheltering in schools where solid walls and ground make them feel a bit less insecure, to live in tents on hastily prepared flat areas that we hope have been put above the rest of the rains of our far-from-finished rainy season.
Our students need to get back to school, that’s for sure, and Form 5s (those due to take regional CXC exams in May 2011) return today.
But this is well into the third week after the hurricane and houses are still full of mud – cleaning up those ones that are still standing has not begun for many; no water until a few days ago and in some places, still no water; no cleaning tools and supplies distributed yet; no replacement uniforms, books, etc; very many mattresses still needed….landslips still a few raindrops away – it rained heavily last night…
ShelterBoxes - Tent City, Fond St. Jacques (photo Tim Prescott)
I’m listening to the news and hear there will now be a 30 minute programme called ‘St. Lucia Recovers’ to air daily? weekly? Hmm, I missed that - will update :-) UPDATE - Daily at 10am and repeat at 3pm on NTN (Gov’t TV channel), 10 am Radio St. Lucia and online on, ScruffyTV .
Good. Late, but if we do this now, then next time – and there surely will be a next time – we will be able to start that MUCH earlier in the process.
In the midst of all this, there are people, informal groups and agencies who have done and are still doing outstanding work – and I will write about some of them in the next post.
But for now, I must get back to work, so I’ll leave you to consider the question of how we make sure we have people who ‘can do’ and ‘can stay’ in positions of need…