Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Yesterday marked the start of the Atlantic- Caribbean Hurricane season. Several storms have been named and forecasters believe it may be an average season but with some intensity. That may be some good news. FEMA has tested its readiness but indications are that coastal regions in the US have not recovered from the ravages of the last season. Cuba and Haiti may be worse off still having been overrun by multiple storms during the 2008 season as well. These are the some of the indicators of the chronic exposure and the vicious cycle of vulnerability, poor, small and developing countries face. There appears to be little time and resources to recover fully and prepare for the next season. Last year's damages and debris are about to meet this year's. Interestingly once these storms enter the Caribbean Sea, the almost landlocked water body results in increased water temperature, hurricane strength and intensity. Any outlet will be land-based and so a country or countries around the Caribbean Basin is sure to come in for a hit. The results are never pretty. It is obvious that the mitigation - preparation approach to reduce disaster impacts in this case appear to be theoretical. They are costly and for countries having to make decisions between life's basic necessities and preservation of vital assets in the face of imminent disaster, the options are grim. Disasters for them are not events. They are the daily vagaries of life,accentuated by storms, floods, earthquake, and the risk of that happening is present for six month of each year. If prediction for global temperature increases are correct that exposure might be more that six months in the forseeable future. Poor, coastal regions are vulnerable, small islands are also vulnerable. So it's those social-cultural, economic and political issues that constitute the disaster, the collapse of related protection- in essence, it is the vulnerable - people and country who endure the disaster. The literature is suggesting that we focus on the vulnerable, not on the event, and since in my estimation the exposure here is chronic, I suggest further we make concerns about vulnerability the center of decisions, operations and a way of life. Succeeding generations have to be taught and nurtured on vulnerability and its reduction. Education takes center stage in this approach but education itself is often a victim of these vagaries and for succeeding generation, futures are jeopardized, which in turn jeopardized the welfare of nations and generations after that. The opportunity for securing livelihoods and for sustained learning on vulnerability is lost when education facilities and system are destroyed or disrupted as a result of disasters. Recovery can be hard and long, debilitating for children, teachers and administrators and politicians. I propose that the situation is such that relief is never designed for longterm recovery; education is not a high priority in relief efforts and that recovery of educational facilities is expensive. Funding and catastrophic risk coverage are also inadequate to meet recovery cost in a timely manner. The disruption and recovery can last over five years as evidence seems to indicate. Whether these new facilities meet building codes and standards and whether the resources are available to maintain these standards over time given the annual exposure to disaster triggers is suspect. In the meantime,as this season unfolds I wait to see what lessons were learnt and how countries recover from the devastation.