Coordinate relief efforts after Hurricane Irma

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, there is one key lesson of the past that bears repeating: in order to achieve maximum effectiveness, our hurricane relief efforts need to be both targeted and well coordinated.

While all donations of cash, materials and services are welcome, there are always too many relief ventures that have not been properly thought out and have not been aligned with the needs and procedures identified by the persons, communities and authorities on the ground.

From the Canadian end, past fundraising efforts mounted collectively by our Diaspora organizations in support of Haiti and Dominica have been enthusiastically supported by our artistic performers and artistic organizations, the Caribbean Consular Corps in Toronto, the Jamaican-Canadian Association and other volunteer teams under the leadership of such seasoned relief campaigners as Dr. Eric Pierre and Ms. Frances Delsol.

In that same vein, there is a permanent role for the Council of Caribbean Associations Canada in the formulation and implementation of a management model for our Caribbean Diaspora to react to disaster relief and other emergency situations in the Caribbean.

There should be no reason to keep supporting disorganized but well intentioned relief activities, or to have to re-invent the wheel every time a crisis arises.

That rationale for a targeted and coordinated Diaspora approach applies to our relief activities here in Canada, as well as to our activities and our selection of beneficiaries and projects on the ground in the Caribbean.

It goes without saying that all members of our Diaspora should support the relief efforts aimed at assisting the Caribbean region as it recovers from the massive destruction inflicted on it by Hurricane Irma.

In the first instance, those efforts are focused on providing emergency supplies of food, water, shelter facilities and medical services. This stage also includes the tasks of restoring electricity, energy supplies and telecommunications services; reopening roads and airports; and repairing the other aspects of the physical infrastructure damaged by the category 5 destroyer.

Equally important is the second phase of physical re-construction and re-building of the institutional agencies and the management culture which are so necessary for the effective functioning of civil society and of national and territorial governance. This second phase focuses on the medium and long-term rehabilitation of the traumatized society.

In both of those two phases, attention is also paid to the psychological trauma and the economic impact of the disaster.

In that regard, it is comforting to note that our Caribbean technocrats, academics and politicians have developed a cultivated awareness of the absolute need for addressing the issue of the continuous vulnerability of our ancestral region to “natural disasters”.

More so than many other regions and many countries throughout the world, the Caribbean remains permanently vulnerable to the physical and economic damage wrought by “acts of God” and by man-made assaults  on the region’s air, land and marine spaces, such as mining, industrial pollution and environmentally harmful tourism activities.

As a result of their keen attention to that doubly negative reality, the national agencies responsible for environmental management and for the prevention and management of disasters have been actively integrating their activities into the agendas of regional cooperation agencies such as the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CODEMA) and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).

Other than the family, social and cultural bonds that make us so sensitive to the needs of our cousins in the Caribbean, there is also the physical and practical consideration that any calamity or pollution in one part of our region can easily spread to other parts of our shared Caribbean air, land and marine spaces.

To cite just one example, there is the case of Tobago’s flying fish, so commonly and humourously referred to as having dual citizenship as a result of their natural and frequent “presence” in the national waters and the food culture of Barbados. If pollution or disease should ever harm this tasty “shared” resource, both Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago will suffer the calamitous consequences.

Among all the Caribbean countries and territories viciously preyed upon by Hurricane Irma, special attention is being paid to the totally devastated island of Barbuda.

In extending our heartfelt sympathies to all those families and communities that have suffered the loss of loved ones, serious injuries and major material losses, we encourage all members of our Canadian-Caribbean community to ensure that their relief efforts are well targeted and well organized.

The mis-direction, under-utilization and wastage of relief efforts and resources must no longer be tolerated.