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Surviving natural disasters

The suggestion that islanders have developed a ‘Handout mentality’ when it comes to disaster relief is challenged by several writers in this week’s article.

Pat Turpin from Tobago (Caribbean) writes: The suggestions from Dawn Tuiloma Palesoo have a lot of merit. It is not that we can’t do it, as proven in the latest disasters in Tobago, where torrential rains caused massive landslides in the north, cutting us off for days, with no communication, no water, no power, ice and food running out. After the initial shock, everyone pitched in to help. However, there is an attitude to expect the government to do everything for us. This is not good. Greater preparation is needed and with the changes in global climate, we can expect a lot more disasters.

Similar views were expressed by Pacific islanders. In the small island where I come from, writes Morris Amos from Vanuatu (Pacific), when disaster strikes, people are always able to manage and to live, even without relief supplies. The issue of relief supplies is something that is forced in. It is not a community demand and does not come from the affected people. Instead it is asked for by administrators who use it to win support and political power. In real terms, the supplies are never sufficient for the purpose. And yes, it is only a handout. The point I wish to make here is that there is a very real and rich experience of self support in many small islands in the Pacific that is being over-looked. As the saying goes in the Pacific ’The island may be small in size, but the people who live there have a wealth of knowledge and skills to live happily’.

Along similar lines, Tamani Nair wrote: I personally feel that disasters are not a new concept for the peoples of the Pacific and in pre-colonial times they had their own way of dealing with natural disasters. This was proven in the Solomon Islands when they were struck by a very terrible hurricane some years back. Authorities thought that the people on one of the atolls had perished because they had lost contact with the authorities in Honiara. After a week when an Australian military aircraft flew over the atoll they were surprised to see people going about their everyday business and that food was available as they had prepared for the hurricane.

High Chief Vaasiliifiti Moelagi Jackson from Samoa (Pacific) wrote: While I agree with most of the points raised, it is impossible to go back, the only way on is forward. So I think the word is integration of modern trends and our traditional knowledge to prepare ourselves and build resilience during and after disasters. For instance in Samoa we are ensuring by law that any building using European architecture or materials must satisfy our building codes, whilst also revitalising our traditional knowledge about building temporary shelters. Knowledge about storing water, and collecting fruit and vegetables that will be lying on the ground after the cyclone, have been revisited and taught for the benefit of the people. After Cyclones Ofa and Valerie struck Samoa in 1990 and 1991, Red Cross field and relief workers found people in villages away from the centre digging and clearing the roads, helping each other to build temporary shelters to house children and elderly, using coconuts for drinking, etc. I am sure each island has their own traditions that we could integrate into our present modern plans. We, the officials, should look out for traditional methods and knowledge that can be encouraged and shared with other villagers and islands. Good luck, it is our hurricane season in the Pacific and on top of all the usual programs and preparation, the whole country went into a Fasting Week to protect our islands from disaster. The fasting week has been an annual event since 1992. I wish to take this opportunity to convey my best wishes that God may comfort and help all our Caribbean friends who suffered from the last hurricane.

Messages In This Thread

Handout mentality
Dawn Tuiloma-Palesoo -- Tuesday, 16 November 2004
Surviving natural disasters
M. Amos, V. Jackson, T. Nair, P. Turpin -- Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Better forecasting - less disaster relief
Antonio Ferrer -- Tuesday, 14 December 2004

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