Small Islands Voice Global Forum
Better forecasting - less disaster relief
‘We only get accurate forecasts when the weather event is likely to affect an American territory’ writes Antonio Ferrer in this article about the lessons learnt from recent disasters in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, two countries which share the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea.
Some of the points raised in this discussion forum about how communities cope with disasters without waiting for outside help, motivated me to expand on the topic, especially after the recent Hurricane Jeanne in Haiti and the massive flooding disaster earlier this year at Jimeni (near the border of Dominican Republic and Haiti).
The qualification of emergency personnel in the islands is for most of the time very poor. Most of the people are volunteers who make a great effort with few resources. On the other hand there are people who are given the job for political reasons; they don't have the knowledge but they do get paid. These are the positions that political bureaucrats like to hand out.
Good forecasts are more important than post-disaster relief. I would prefer an accurate forecast, rather than bottled water and aspirins. If information as to the magnitude of the storms reached the island in good time, more accurate local forecasts could be made and planning and preparations done in advance.
Authorities are responsible for disasters in the sense that they allow people to build in places where they shouldn't, such as river beds, steep slopes, close to the seashore, or in mountainous areas where mud slides are likely to occur.
For poor countries, donations (or even handouts) are always welcome. The people expect them, and even worse, take them for granted. The low price garment industry of the Dominican Republic has been affected by the donations of used clothing made to Haiti, since a very high percentage of the donated clothes end up in the Dominican Republic, either being sold or bartered.
Anything that is donated in a poor country is likely to be bartered, since they have so many needs. They might need medicine, but they received clothing, and so the exchange or barter has to occur. Only religious groups handle such situations with good results. If donations are given to the authorities, they will end up sold, even before they are given away. Most of the time, when government is involved in such ‘Crisis Donations’, they use it for political promotion. The poor often have to suffer more in order to receive these handouts, standing in long lines, exposed to the sun and the degradation of the whole process.
As climate changes so do the chances increase for more natural disasters, therefore studies are necessary in order to prevent future loss of human life. Accurate information regarding the weather never gets to the islands on time, unless the weather event is likely to affect an American territory, that's when it gets the appropriate coverage. Rather than receiving the band aids when the heads are rolling, we ought to receive assistance in monitoring the weather and potential disasters. After all the cost of communication and sharing information should always be cheaper than the cost of post disaster aid shouldn’t it?
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