Today T&T celebrates our 41st anniversary as a Republic. My father was an MP in the first Parliament of independent T&T.
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No one could have been fully prepared for the monstrosity of Irma but the seemingly reactive moves by many agencies across the Caribbean over the past 24 hours, is an indication that the most devastating storm in recent history was underestimated.
Irma ripped a path of destruction through the Caribbean claiming lives, flattening communities, flooding everything in her path. While no one and nothing could have stopped the storm, it should have been possible for our Caribbean agencies and governments to collaborate ahead of time for the purpose of risk assessment.
The images emerging from neighbouring islands have caused many of us to pause. Thousands of families and individuals have lost everything. Shelters are overcrowded, space is limited, food and water are in short supply. In many communities, it will be a while before relief reaches those who desperately need it.
While T&T was far enough from Irma’s path, we are not immune from disaster and our vulnerabilities are evident. Yesterday heavy rains caused widespread flooding in Port-of-Spain, yet again. While successive administrations have pledged to find an infrastructural solution to the problem, no one has been able to get anything done. Thousands of motorists were once again stranded for hours in heavy traffic, while several vehicles were damaged by rapidly rising waters on clogged major roadways. If this type of chaos in the capital is caused by heavy rain alone, what would we be left with, had Irma crossed our path?
The bottom line is that few Caribbean governments, including successive administrations in T&T, have been strong on planning, risk assessment and disaster mitigation. Political will and political continuity have been weak when it comes to making and executing plans of action on key infrastructural issues. Irma’s recent passage and the approach of another weather systems, should serve as a wake-up call. It must compel us to review our own exposure to risk and work to address it. It should also call us to action, to help those in need around us.
To this end, Guardian Media is partnering with the rest of our ANSA McAL family, as well as AMCHAM T&T and the Pan American Development Foundation, to provide urgent assistance to those affected by Hurricane Irma. You can join our efforts to get supplies to those who desperately need it, by going to https://www.padf.org/irmaamchamtt
Getting involved is now urgent. The aid offering from the Government of T&T so far, is one helicopter, for one week, to one country. We don’t know what capabilities the crew have and we aren’t certain just how much of an impact this gesture will have. We are hopeful, though, that they will make a difference. We are also hopeful that going forward, our own Government would put more thought into addressing some of our own vulnerabilities. The chronic flooding across many parts of our country, including the capital, is shameful. We simply must do better.