For the December issue of the CN the Editor usually would ask that I write a “lighter” column in keeping with the spirit of the season. I almost always happily oblige. But I don’t have that pressure this month because there is a lot to talk about.
First, my prayers go out to those thousands of persons and households affected by the floods in October. I think it is the only manifestation of widespread damage and devastation from a so-called natural disaster that the country may have witnessed, certainly in my lifetime.
I say “so-called natural disaster” since research tells us that there is “… nothing natural about a disaster…”. Disasters occur when a natural hazard, in this case the heavy and incessant rainfall that was witnessed over a few days, combines with a pre-existing vulnerability.
In this case the vulnerabilities seem to have been many—little to no adherence to building codes including, building on or near flood plains, no timely clearing water courses including drains, indiscriminate dumping of rubbish including copious amounts of plastic, and, of course, environmental degradation including clearing of hills and other forest cover.
The “natural” consequence of all the above is that when the rains came, the “disaster” followed.
The [human] corbeaux also surfaced in the aftermath of the flooding disaster:
* Imagine recording persons’ anguish at losing their homes, property, livestock, life possessions and posting on social media!
* Imagine posting a woman crying at the realisation that the only possession she has left in this world were the clothes on her back and what could fit in a small grocery bag!
* Imagine going to ‘assist’ people in need and walking with a camera crew!
* Imagine going to feed persons who did not know where their next meal would come from and taking selfies with them!
One of the consequences of disasters generally, but specifically the recent local events, is that it shows the inequities and inequalities that are prevalent in our country. The fact is that not all Trinbagonians can equally access resources and opportunities.
It also is true that we are not all equally exposed to the hazards and vulnerabilities. As one researcher noted “…Whether or not people have adequate access to water, or a decent home, are determined by social factors (including economic and political processes). And these same social processes also have a very significant role in determining who is most at risk from hazards: where people live and work, and in what kind of buildings, their level of hazard protection, preparedness, information, wealth and health have nothing to do with nature as such, but are attributes of society. So people’s exposure to risk differs according to their class (which affects their income, how they live and where), whether they are male or female, what their ethnicity is, what age group they belong to, whether they are disabled or not…” (https://www.preventionweb.net/files/670_72351.pdf).
As we seek to rebuild and recover from the “natural” disaster, let us be careful not to replicate the vulnerability. By that I mean in seeking to put the pieces back together, literally and figuratively, there could be the unintended effect of rushed, poor construction which is simply a vulnerability waiting for the next hazard to come our way.
But all was not lost in the flooding. In the midst of the physical losses and the anguish, there was the overwhelming generosity of the Trinbagonian spirit. The number of impromptu, honest, earnest, heart-warming gestures of kindness among “my people”, was endearing. We used the occasion to voluntarily organise “food-cooking and distribution” limes, hampers, clothing—it was unbelievable and wonderful!
Let us embrace those innate Christian characteristics that overflowed and continue to flow (though at a slower rate) in the weeks that followed our disaster. Let us be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and overshadow the darkness—the spiralling murder rates and road carnage—that threatens. That’s just my point of view!