This late in a year, which has been promised a busy season
of storms and hurricanes, the last thing the public wishes
to hear from experts is that this country is not prepared.
But this is the discouraging message coming from the Health
Sector Table Top Disaster Simulation Exercise on Thursday.
The state of national unreadiness for the long-predicted
onset of hurricane-season activity has been bluntly reported
as the outcome of the exercise put on at the office of the
National Emergency Management Authority (Nema).
Organised by the Ministry of Health, International Federation
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Nema and Pan
American Health Organisation (Paho), the event aimed to
advance disaster management and preparedness.
UWI Professor Winston Suite appreciates that plain talk
about public affairs tends to be received by those in authority
as some politically motivated outpouring. When asked, however,
he gave his professional opinion as a senior engineer, and
as a close observer of what has been learned and implemented
since the epoch-making Hurricane Ivan last year.
Disappointingly, the short answer is: precious little.
I do not want to make a political statement, but I
dont think that we have done very much, Prof
Politics aside, the bitter pill of failure to prepare, even
after putting our fingers into the wounds made by Hurricane
Ivan, is a reality T&T must now swallow.
Hillside housing in Tobago has already been affected by
early seasonal rains. In flood-prone south and central Trinidad
areas, residents have voiced lack of confidence in the preparation
of anti-deluge defences, the Guardian has reported.
The prospect of a 2005 repeat of the natural-disaster impact
of 2004 is an administrative shame and scandal. It is also
an imminent terror for people seeing themselves the first
victims of floods and landslides.
Prof Suite blamed the long-standing reliance on voluntarism.
Noting that Nemas concept has been based on
voluntary input from organisations, he said governments
have not adequately funded the authority.
When there is a disaster, you have to get this one
to do that and the other one to do that. You have no core
staff. Nema has no technical staff
That Nema, the body to which everyone turns when a natural
disaster strikes, is both under-funded and under-professionalised,
is a ground for national frustration over lack of administrative
progress in yet another area.
When there is a problem and people calling Nema, they
(Nema) tell you straight they have no money or equipment,
Prof Suite said, in a reminder of familiar complaints and
If Nema isnt ready, neither are the national health
services. After the Thursday exercise, the principal medical
officer for environmental health was quoted issuing an equally
candid assessment of the health services capacity
for coping with natural disaster: We are not adequately
prepared and we have to be aware of what we have to do.
Albeit late, the country has to start somewhere.The start
should be with Nema, the body charged with management.
It is about bringing Nema into the modern world as a well-resourced
and capable manager of matters, which is why Prof Suites
ideas deserve serious attention.
He called for a new philosophy to guide construction of
a new model for Nema: We need legislation and with
legislation will come a budget and with a budget will come
If, indeed, all of those are missing, as the hour nears
for storms and hurricanes, what, apart from faith in the
Trini nationality of God, can now be relied
upon? Maybe T&T can make it easier for God to help those
who help themselves.