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Disasters and the regional response

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

There are at least two often mocked and reviled institutions that come to the fore each time Caribbean societies face the annual challenges of our geography. For at least six months of the year and even more, there is talk of their irrelevance and virtual uselessness.

One, you see, is inter-governmental in character and therefore subject to all the foibles of Caribbean bureaucracy, public service lethargy and unenlightened political interference; the other is largely private in nature and no less affected by deficiencies of its own. So, some criticism is hard to avoid.

By now you should have worked out that I am speaking about the Caricom system on the one hand and the regional mass media on the other.

Last week, by focusing on Caribbean-wide reportage on the impact of Hurricane Irma in this space, I described the circumstances leading to the false claim that regional media had not been competently covering the hurricane. In the process, my assertions ought to have invoked some thoughts on a regional paradigm as prescriptive of the preferred approach to matters concerning our development as nations of the Caribbean.

This, of course, is the stuff of ideology and easily dismissed by, among other things, a proposed return to a condition essentially colonial in nature. I cannot help you with that. What I am suggesting is that there is an ability to significantly address problems of our own through our own indigenous devices.

Nobody is suggesting that we are anything but significantly under-resourced to address all the essential survival issues. There are challenges of land space, economies of scale, financial and human resource capacity, appropriate technology and, significantly, an absence of self-belief and confidence. In the process, we are confronted with the huge challenge of responsibility in addressing matters of our own self-interest. But collective responses provide us with the best possible start.

Now we have hurricanes Irma and Maria and whatever else is on the list.

The fact is, if we were to keep close tabs on these matters, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (Cdema) and complementary interventions such as the Regional Response Mechanism (RRM), Caricom Disaster Relief Unit (CDRU), Rapid Needs Assessment Team (RNAT) and Caricom Operational Support Team (COST) have been among the most important institutions first at the scenes of significant distress.


When the dust clears, the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility (now CCRIF), also a Caricom invention, will step in to provide a measure of relief. It has already started doing so and has been cited as an international model to be replicated elsewhere.

Unlike the very welcome international responses that follow, Cdema has not had to await the arrival of anyone because it is our response system and we are already here.

This is not to say the agency is perfect and I hope it assembles all stakeholders for public discussions following this current troubled period. Suffice it to say, for the moment, that while recognition of the role of the media exists, there is more that can be done to help us perform our duties as journalists and media workers.

This leads me to the ‘other’ Caricom institution—our media.

As discussed last week, there was actually no shortage of material from indigenous media regarding Irma. People who have their social and traditional media feeds directed to the repeal of Obamacare and Trump family life are not going to routinely come across ABS coverage in Antigua or Voice of Sint Maarten or ZBVI Radio in Tortola or the collated dispatches of CMC or CaribVision broadcasts.

But, where they remained intact, Caribbean media houses stayed awake and alert throughout the recent crises.

Though local officials at first resisted, and some continue to do so, regional and international media were able to land and to join with local colleagues to tell the stories to the outside world. Regular citizens have also been joining in to paint true pictures of life after the hurricane.

By now, the region would also be addressing the impacts of Maria. It is not a time for quarrels and contention. But some time should be paid in tribute to some of our own home-spun responses that have not failed us and to extend to them the support, in all its manifestations, they require.


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