Small Islands Voice Global Forum
I once listened to a prominent Indian Professor who candidly told us that, in India there are three main crops, namely ‘rice, grain and disaster relief’. In a country prone to all kinds of natural disasters, is it no wonder they rely heavily on outside assistance.
Unfortunately this is the case for most developing countries, including small islands. When a disaster strikes, many communities in our island countries tend to sit back and wait for handouts. This may sound harsh, but it is becoming a reality. However, the mentality we islanders have adopted is not entirely of our own doing. Through international aid, we have developed the expectation that we are not alone and assistance will arrive from all corners of the world, I suppose this is what is meant by ‘globalization’. While intentions are good, is it really producing ‘good’?
Let us look at the social and cultural costs, which in my opinion, are of more value.
I said before that islanders have adopted a ‘hand-out mentality’, with the emphasis on ‘adopted’ mainly because we were not always this way. If we were to examine how our ancestors dealt with disasters we would be surprised at how resilient they really were. I suppose a key factor in their success, was the fact that in their days, there was little or no assistance of any kind, so in the end, they really only had themselves to rely on. So, how can we go back? The answer is we cannot, but there are lessons we can learn or rather re-learn in order to better cope with the devastation of disasters today.
One of the ingredients that made our forefathers more resilient to disasters was the fact that they were prepared. If you look at traditional houses in Pacific islands today, which by the way are almost non-existent in many communities, you will notice that they were built with local materials and in some instances were specifically built so as not to withstand disasters. Why? The answer is so that the houses could easily be rebuilt after the disaster. Also, still with housing, in some communities, the poles of traditional houses were collapsed before a cyclone, and reinstalled after the cyclone. In regards to food, in some cultures, when planting food crops, there was always a patch reserved for emergencies. Also we still hear the words ‘hurricane food’ which are foods cooked and prepared in a certain way which makes them last longer. These foods were to sustain a family or community after a disaster. Is this still being practiced? There are many, many examples of how our ancestors prepared themselves for cyclones/hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters, but each culture knows its own traditional methods best.
In essence, there needs to be a general revival of these traditional practices. But is this enough? I would say no, we need to go further and change our mentalities. We need to be able to determine for ourselves our own methods for dealing with disasters and what is best for our own communities.
On the other hand, we cannot close the door on what the ‘outside’ has to offer. There are always new methods and tools available to us. It is up to those ‘outside’ to ensure that the tools provided to countries are both relevant and useable. Too often we see new equipment, tools and methodologies donated to islands and literally left to gather dust. Why? Because we do not have the capacity to use and maintain them.
But more importantly, let us go back to what the social and cultural costs are? The answer simply is us. Every time we allow outside influences to determine how we live, we begin to lose a little of who we are. This to many, may sound like regretful talk, but think about it, how much of our societies have changed already, and why? I am sure you can figure that out yourselves.
So what is it to be? Rice, grain or disaster relief? The choice and its consequences are entirely yours.
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