Guyana Flood: Setback in Disaster Preparedness
Seopaul Singh CEM
Since hurricane Allen in 1980, and following the devastation in Jamaica and other Caribbean Islands, Dr. John Tomlin, Coordinator of United Nations Disaster Relief Office (UNDRO), Geneva, moved in the early eighties, to organize a Disaster Preparedness body in the Caribbean. The Pan Caribbean Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Project (PCDPPP) was set up with its Secretariat based in Antigua. Dr. Dereck Heinneman, a former ambassador of Suriname, headed the project. Lt. Col. Glen Mignon was its Advisor. The PCDPPP was supported by US/AID-OFDA, PAHO, CIDA, EEC, and the Red Cross. A senior Government Official and radio broadcaster of GBC attended conferences of the Project then, but did nothing about the deliberations on returning to Guyana.
It was not until the Guyana Civil Defence Commission (CDC) was inaugurated in 1981 that a Secretariat was established to promote Disaster Preparedness (DP) in Guyana. With three major political parties represented in the Commission, under the Chairmanship of Vice President, Ministry of Party and State Matters, Cammie Ramsaroop, the CDC was based at the Public Building, Georgetown, Guyana.
From its very inception, and location in the Administration, the CDC became sadly politicized and its function highly misunderstood in the light of the Venezuelan claim on two-thirds of Guyana (Essequibo). Disaster Preparedness met its first big hurdle at home.
In July 1984, at the Jolly Beach Hotel in Antigua, through the sponsorship of UNDRO, supported by CARICOM, twenty-nine Caribbean and Latin American States met and were united in PCDPPP important venture. Guyana's DP program was presented at this the first Caribbean Disaster Coordinators Meeting. For the benefit of the country, some misinformation that was presented by the Project Manager to the Conference on the status of DP in Guyana was corrected. For this Dr. Tomlin of UNDRO and Lt. Col. Mignon commended the Guyana delegate.
Dr. Tomlin immediately ordered a special meeting with the Guyana delegate and Guyana's needs began to meet with redress. There the Guyana delegate was tasked with the objective of developing an organization to succeed the PCDPPP. The full time coordinators presented a report for further action. Dr. Tomlin also invited the Guyana delegate to present a Paper on Guyana's DP program at the Hazard Monitoring Workshop set for Cuba in September 1984.
Before departing from Antigua, an invitation was extended to the Preparedness Advisor Lt. Col. Glen Mignon to visit Guyana. This he later did, and met with the incumbent Chairman, Minister of Health, Dr. Richard Van-West Charles and members of the Commission at the Ministry of Health. Also met in Antigua and invited was Mr. Richard Aspen, Regional Representatives of Partners of the Americas. He too would visit Guyana sometime later.
Since then it appeared that only superficial assent was given to the PCDPPP before CDC participation. Guyana had even lapsed in the financial contribution to the project during the late-1980s.
Before the CDC visit to Cuba, dialogues were held with the PAHO representative Dr. B.B.T. Zeleke, who advised on the health needs of Guyana, Specialist Hydraulics Engineer Mr. Sahai and Chief Hydro-meteorologist Mr. Chander Persaud, all of whom advised on the needs of the services in the nation. Then in the pre-conference briefing by the Minister of Health, political interference reared its head in the country's Disaster Preparedness affairs. The Minister cautioned us not to say anything about Malaria and Typhoid that were current problems in the hinterland and sections of the coastland of Guyana.
From the Department of Lands and Surveys it was established that:
1. Georgetown was approximately six feet below the High Water Mark of the tide.
2. The gradient of the Coastland is approximately half inch to the mile.
3. Any major breaches of the sea defenses would result in the loss of hundreds of lives in ground floors in the City, and 4. Any evacuation from Georgetown, if possible (with water covering the streets), would have to be by boats.
Any sober-thinking individual has gotten the picture of a flood tragedy waiting to happen. Some have called for a relocation of the City. With the seasonal flooding and the congestion and traffic bottlenecks, this may be the best alternative to waiting and wondering if such a tragedy would befall the nation.
In spite of government laxity, the Civil Defence Commission, however, pushed the country's DP program (1984-88). In just five years the CDC was involved in the following:
1. Helped plan, execute and evaluate the several major DP Workshops:
a. Two 'International' on General Preparedness, PCDPPP/UNDRO
b. Two on Mass Casualty Management for the Health Sector, PAHO
c. Hazardous Material Workshop for Fire Officers by David Gratz, FDNY
d. One in Fort Wellington, West Berbice, executed by the CDC
e. One in Mabaruma, North West District, executed by the CDC
f. One on Technological Hazards in the Caribbean by Partners of the Americas.
f. One on 'Oil Spills Counter-pollution measures' by Maureen Moffat, CIDA.
g. One on Airport Security with George Cassidy of Caribbean Airports Security
2. Lectured on Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management to:
a. Police Recruits in the Guyana Police Training School, Eve Leary
b. Cadets Officers of the Guyana Defence Force, and
c. All the All-Age and Secondary Schools in Georgetown.
3. Sent Representatives to several International Training forums on:
a. International 'Hazard Monitoring and Engineering' Workshops (Attended by such officers as Raymond Latchmansingh and Sahai)
b. Training of Doctors in 'Emergency Medicine' (attended by such Doctors as Roger Luncheon and Daglish Joseph)
c. Training of Fire Officers in Fire Science, (attended by such Officers as Rogers, Dennison, Morrison and Ferrel)
d. Training of Trainers in Emergency First Aid by Audrey Mullinsl of International Red Cross
4. Set about to promote training of one member in each household in Emergency First Aid. This was on its way in Linden, promoted by St John's Ambulance Brigade.
5. Negotiated Guyana's Vulnerability Analyses in the following areas:
a. Sea Defences Funded by PCDPPP and executed by Peter Sanasi, Hydraulics Engineering Consultant
b. Coastal and River Vulnerability Analysis funded by PCDPPP and Executed by Elizabeth Jones, a Geographer.
A Botched Workshop
A tragic experience followed the program for a Workshop in Linden. One former Regional Chairman, Morrison, should remember this. A section of the 'Valley of Tears' in Wismar was selected and hypothetically hit with a tornado. A scenario was simulated for the workshop to develop the response capability of the Linden Municipality to the affected community. Political interference botched the operation. The late President, HD Hoyte, was scheduled to visit Linden the same weekend and the plan was thwarted. The paradox of the experience was that immediately after the President's visit, very 'high winds', a low amplitude 'hurricane' hit Wismar and blew away the roof of the Market and several houses. It was ironic to know that the area identified for the hypothetical workshop scenario was hit by the phenomenon.
Loss of Help from PCDPPP
The CDC was met with sad outcome because of Government's apathy, since the late eighties, in their effort to setting up a well-equipped Emergency Operation Center (EOC) with a National and International Disaster Communication Network. A National Telecommunication Network was mapped out with repeater systems in the mountains to link the entire Hinterland and Coast before the arrival of the Project Telecommunication Advisor. The CDC was to maintain direct radio connection to the Caribbean Disaster Preparedness Head Quarters in Barbados, and the US Traumatic Response Unit, Miami. Negotiations with the PCDPPP Telecommunication Advisor were finalized for a budget of US$ 50,000 for Radio Communication Equipment. The CDC had already received a Video Monitor Unit.
The Equipment for the EOC were procured and kept in Red Cross Building in Antigua pending Guyana Government identifying a suitable building for the EOC. This vital project fell through because of Government's inaction, and the equipment were subsequently diverted elsewhere. Why this lethargy is unbelievable! Guyana spends more (per capita) all year round on Disaster and Emergency works, compared to the Caribbean, in spite of the seasonal hurricane tragedies that hit a few Islands occasionally.
Loss of Help from EEC For Sea Defence Maintenance Works
During a visit of an EEC (now-EU) Delegation to the Ministry of Finance in 1988, the CDC was requested to host a meeting with the EEC Hydraulics Engineering Consultant. In that meeting he requested evidence of CDC national disaster preparedness planning. After the National Disaster Response Mechanism was presented, US $5Million was negotiated for maintenance and preventative works for sea defences. Immediately after the meeting, the opportunity was relayed to the Prime Minister Hamilton Green. But the Prime Ministers and Government's continued apathy on the Leguan and West Demerara Sea Defence crisis was appalling and manifested in the De Williems, West Demerara 100-foot sea defence breach. No follow up was taken on this either. (Note that former Prime Minister is the current Mayor of Georgetown. Is there any wonder why Georgetown continues to be under floodwater annually?) This was the frustrating inaction, which prompted this writer to resign the position in the Civil Defence Commission in 1988.
Loss of Help from Partners of the Americas Exchanges and Weather Services
Under the aegis of the Civil Defence Commission, the Regional Representative of Partners of the Americas, Mr. Richard Aspen, was invited to visit Guyana. A Chapter of Partners was later set up in 1987, at first headed by Mr. Esau Persaud, and twinned with the State of Mississippi. Later in 1988 a Team from Partners arrived, but there was no reception arranged for their first workshop.
An independent contact (by me) was made with the Team Leader, Mr. Howard Speigleman. Through voluntary help, the workshop and dialogues were facilitated with University of Guyana and a host of agencies and the Representatives of Partners. This received wide coverage in the press. Educational exchange programs were discussed. The Hydro-meteorological Division was enlisted to identify areas of needs (Radar and Satellite Tracking Systems, Barometers, Hydrometers and various weather monitoring equipment), and Hydraulics Division's needs for Flood Plain Management and Control measures). How much was achieved with these moves? Not much.
On the Current Drainage and Irrigation Crisis
Numerous analyses have recently surfaced which sought to explain the current flood. Many have hedged on the issue of who is to be blamed? The Stabroek News Editorial of Friday 21 January 2005, gave some background information and positive recommendations. However, a level of desperation is quite noticeable in the last two paragraphs. Let me point out that much of the expertise required for the overhaul of the D&I System, at one time or the other, was tapped since the eighties. The experts did their part, but their reports were met with blatant complacency from the Government of the day.
As such, the gravity of the present flooding has its roots deeper (as was rightly pointed out in the editorial) than recent heavy rainfall. Many citizens were unaware or perhaps not too concerned that flooding has been the way of life for many coastlanders throughout Guyana's history, especially the farmers in the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary (MMA) rice producing grid.
This writer was born in a flood. He was drowning in another one. And in 1996, witnessed his first major 'Fifty-years' cycle flood in MMA. Yet flooding was never given the priority it deserved by the government, because the whole nation never felt the pinch as rice farmers did.
Yearly, during either Spring or Autumn crops, farmers suffer losses of significant magnitudes. In my presentation at the Hazard-monitoring Workshop in Cuba (1984), I had coined the term 'Silent Impacts' (unlike the 'slam bam' of hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanoes), to describe such phenomena, because of their unobserved daytime or overnight visitations. This prompted me to include in the first National Disaster Workshop, held in May 1985 at Tower Hotel, Georgetown, some key inputs from the Hydro-meteorological Division.
Chief Hydro-meteorological Officer, Mr. Chander Persaud, was invited to present a paper, specifically to bring out the losses suffered through these 'silent impacts' in the Rice Industry. That report was the first of its kind, and widely sought throughout the Caribbean. Apart from rice, the mining and construction industries suffer similarly. Mr. Chander Persaud must be saluted for a well-documented report. Through him we learned of some very disturbing influences of the Flood and Drought weather patterns and cycles [such as High Frequency Low Amplitude (HFLA) and Low Frequency High Amplitude (LFHA) weather phenomena]. These impacts affected agriculture mainly and were recorded for a ten-year period, to account for estimated losses of over G$10 millions yearly to rice farmers (quoted back in 1985). Such losses would probably run into billions in today's dollar value. Most of the nation was ignorant of the impacts of such weather patterns and the farmers were never seen to deserve any help or compensation from the national coffers. Nevertheless, much had since been done to make the Government of the day aware of the needs of the country with regards to numerous aspects of the Hydro-meteorology and Hydrology which affect the coastland.
Breaking the Curse of Apathy
At the CDC level there was a meeting of the fully constituted Commission in which the issue of Drainage and Irrigation (D&I) engaged the experts in Hydraulics with the commissioners. The meeting faced an impasse on the lack of data and inaction which plagued the members. After minutes of crosstalk, the members were reminded that they should set up a Special Task Force, headed by the Chief Hydraulics Officer, to examine the issue in depth and report to the commission.
Task Forces were included in eight sectors of services identified in the upper level of the Disaster Response Mechanism since 1983, but the experts were not following the structure.
More recently, following the 1996 deluge on the MMA grid, farmers' assets were quickly levied upon. It was only after four months before an ad hoc response was effected. While the intensive rainfall resulted in a sea of floodwater from the hinterland, a common occurrence, the conservancy breach aggravated both the level and pervasiveness of that flood. I was advised that under the Common Law, the holders of the Conservancy may have been liable. Some farmers became irresponsible and were probably blamable. Because the incentive for planting was poor they neglected to pay loans, and thus perhaps deserved the action by the State.
Flooding, Seepage and Overtopping of the Conservancy Dams
Hydraulics Engineer consultant Mr. Raymond Latchmansingh is highly respected, but there is much dissent in the press with his analysis on the Conservancy status.
Seepage of the Conservancy could not account for that significant mass volume of water, which aggravated the flooding (due to heavy rainfall on the coastland). First and foremost, gradient and gravity account for the mass buildup of water from the watershed areas of the mountains. Secondly, with the water table already primed, floods on the coastal settlements occurred on several occasions overnight, even when no rainfall was experienced on the Coast, and overtopping of the conservancy dam resulted.
The conservancy dam has indeed been eroded and reduced in height overtime due to several geographical factors as pointed out by another writer Campbell. And it is in dire need of fortification. But the coastland is the final catchment area receiving any deluge from the conservancy or the watershed. Therefore, at any time when the conservancy is overwhelmed with the volume of water coming down the mountains, overtopping occurs. If seepage was so pronounced with the conservancy, then the coastland should suffer from regular mass breach during non-flooding periods also when the water level in the conservancy is high, and these should be more easily detected. The Engineers recent report verified this.
After the first Disaster Preparedness Workshop and Weather Report of 1985, the CDC embarked on a course of action to map out the high-risk areas in the nation. As noted earlier with Government complacency following the botched US$5 Million offer from the EEC Hydraulics Consultant, another daunting disappointment in Government inaction was seen when Mr. Peter Sanasi, a Hydraulics Engineering Consultant, was contracted to do a Vulnerability Analysis of the Sea Defences, under the aegis of the PCDPPP/UNDRO, and listed above. On his completion, a report was forwarded to the Government. Mr. Raymond Latchmansingh, then the Chief Hydraulics Officer, may verify this. Was anything done? No.
The CDC did not slack up on the task of making the government of the day aware of the vulnerability of the coastland to the threats of natural hazards. In 1987, again under the aegis of the PCDPPP/UNDRO, another consultant was contracted to do a 'Vulnerability Analysis' of the coastland, also listed above. A Geographer named Elizabeth Jones made visits to several areas, such as MMA, Craig on the East Bank Demerara and Glasgow on the Right Bank Berbice and others to study the erosion and attrition by rivers. That was another report that might have been left to gather dust on someone's shelf.
This year 2005 is not the first and worst flood which ever hit the Colony or the Independent Republic. We cannot forever blame the Colonial system for the tragic outcome of neglect D&I System. We have to turn homeward and investigate what our independent Government did, or did not do, since 1966 to bolster the very basis on which the coastland was made habitable.
Responsibility, Accountability and Job Contracts
International Standards of Responsibility and Accountability
Many concerned citizens are again advocating and recommending studies and analyses which were already done, and which reports have now become outdated because of the incompetence and careless governance. With regard to the city flooding, the current Mayor and City Council engineers must shoulder major responsibility for the tragedy resulting from the inadequate drainage system. This Mayor continues to drag his feet in the same manner when he was the Prime Minister. He must be held responsible for the failure of the engineers and should be called upon to resign. Despite their culpability two City engineers were praised by the City Council recently.
In another vein, let me note that Guyana experienced the worst cyanide spill of the century in South America. Yet the Omai Gold Mine Company was fined a pittance for the effects it had on the settlers in that location. Have the underwriters yet adequately satisfied the claims of the long term effects? Guyana also had smaller cases of dam defence breaches in Cane Grove and in Leguan, due to shoddy engineering work. Were any fines leveled on the errant contractors?
In most other countries, guilty parties are liable for the tragedies resulting from their incompetence or inaction, which result in disasters to residents. As an example, this was brought out clearly in the Dam Burst in the Dolomites. The villagers, who suffered the flooding and damage as a result, saw the Officer responsible for the Dam imprisoned for his incompetence and/or neglect.
Officials and Specialists who are entrusted with the life and safety of citizens must enter into contracts which require their unfailing diligence. Poor countries cannot afford more tragedies resulting from any petty or gross neglect. Remember the Union Carbide disaster in Bopal, India!
Uncoordinated Disaster Response
While articles in the press on 'Relief Capacity' in the Stabroek News of 1/24/05 and the reportage in the Daily Chronicle of 1/25/05 zeroed in on a number of expert and amateur recommendations for the future, it is advisable that all efforts now must be directed to the relief action. All restructuring and planning must be left till after the final stages of the operation and the debriefing exercise which must follow the crisis. Observations and inputs must now serve to inform and guide the current action being pursued. One may point out the pitfalls, but these must await the closure of response an relief operation before further action. A properly constituted Commission of Inquiry should be the first step after relief tapers off, before moving forward.
The President must be complimented for his very timely response to the flood of Georgetown and the affected regions. In good faith, having noted the disaster situation and its impact on the citizens, he made a good 'humanitarian declaration' for people to 'charge food supplies' for which 'Government will pay'. The desperate situation demanded immediate action since the nation was brought to a standstill from 'city to countryside'. However, specialized functions are involved in Disaster Response, which cannot be done as an ad hoc exercise, in which the public just simply jumped into action. In the desperate and haphazard response, the floodgates were open for all kinds of unscrupulous predators soliciting donations at home and abroad. Every 'fund raising' bodies or individuals need to be closely monitored for transparency and accountability.
These observations, which are made, may not be palatable to many people who were/are involved in the nation's Disaster Response and Relief Operations, are done so with the best intention, even if blunt. Nor are they intended to pull down anyone, but to spotlight the weaknesses in the structure and function of relevant agencies, and to challenge everyone to consider the gravity of their jobs and pay more attention to the seriousness of the task entrusted to them. Everyone should do their bit, including Members of Parliament.
Agencies Involved In Disaster Response
There were/are three national bodies whose functions involved disaster response for over twenty years. First is the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) which is the Disaster Preparedness Agency. This body over the years has seriously lapsed in its real function of Disaster Preparedness planning. Does the CDC have any plans in place? All that was seen of the CDC, was about the "Trades Winds" Exercises, "Counter Terrorism" Training (because of the Army control) and Relief Operations (because of mobility and the available manpower).
Is anyone surprised that the President could not make contact with the CDC head in the wake of a disaster? Second is the National Relief Council (NRC) which is featured always in relief activities in the nation. What training was done or received for specialized functions in Relief Operations such as: (a) 'Managing Donated Goods and Services' and (b) 'Shelter Management'? Third is the National Community Policing Committee (CPC), comprising Community Policing Groups (CPG's) which should have been trained and mobilized to help in the Security of the affected communities.
CDC Disaster Preparedness abandoned
Lately, since the Mash Prison breakout in February 2002, a crime emergency engaged the authorities and the media in Guyana in long drawn out debates with slow paced reactions. The Police and Army failed the nation. The Community Policing Groups sought Government help to protect affected communities. The CDC abandoned general Disaster Preparedness and has only been involved with 'Exercises' and 'Relief' operations in and out of the nation. Despite the name, the CDC was set up with much more than this in mind. It was the authentic Disaster Preparedness agency in the nation, but its composition and functions were grossly neglected. On the request of a Senor Official, a brief proposal was made (by me) for the establishing of a National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) [on the concept upon the National Disaster Response Mechanism was developed in 1983] to grapple with every likely emergency in Guyana. This was followed by much talk of restructuring of the CDC. Nothing materialized.
However, with the forging of the Joint Operation Center (JOC), there is also evidence of the absence of the 'joint training', which helps to synchronize 'joint action'. The experience indicated clearly that these bodies always react to incidents without any semblance of advanced cross-training and planning and, therefore, the lack of coordination. This explains why much disorganization was present in the midst of vital action during the first phase of the disaster response to the recent flooding.
That the President had to spearhead the action is quite understandable. But that he had to move to set up a National Joint Operation Centre speaks volumes of the limitations, and incompetence of the splintered bodies, the CDC and the NRC (involving the Army and the Police). With these splintered groups in focus the need for closing ranks became apparent. And now that the security of the abandoned homes needs to be addressed, the CPG's must also be roped into the Joint Operation to help secure the communities.
Very often, at differing levels, officials seem to revert to the very structures others had willy-nilly dislocated, without seeking the experts advice to ascertain why certain structures were put there in the first place. To attain coordination the President has logically returned to the concept of 'joint action', the original idea behind the unified Civil Defence Commission. During the earlier years of those bodies, the National Relief Committee (now the National Relief Council) was under the guidance of the CDC. So also was Community Policing Groups. Those bodies were originally integrated to function under the structure of the Civil Defence Commission.
The President noted that "the CDC was overwhelmed by the gravity of the Crisis." This is due greatly to the poor perception and illogical fragmentation of the true Disaster Preparedness body in the nation (the CDC). That structure was presented and defended at the Public Service Ministry before CEO, Management Services Division, Mr. Robin Sivanand, to gain inclusion in the Annual Estimates of Expenditure for an Annual Recurrent Budget towards the maintenance of a Secretariat in 1985. Immediately, politics interfered. First the NRC was removed from under the CDC and placed under the direction of a former Mayor, Mavis Benn. Later the National CPC also was removed and given an autonomous status. Now they are expediently brought together again, completing a full circle, to facilitate better coordination in action.
So that any action pursued as the President activated the Joint Operation Centre was to be methodical to eliminate oversights and duplications. Such actions must be guided by the following tenets of Disaster Response in any situation, namely, (a) Damage Assessment, (b) Evacuation and Shelter, (c) Feeding and Sanitation, (d) Counseling, (e) First Aid and Health Watch, (f) Law Enforcement and Community Policing, (g) Reconstruction and (h) Rehabilitation.
Search and Rescue, Listing and Tracking, other aspects of Disaster Response are not priorities now. From their recommendation or reports, priority needs of areas affected by disaster are determined. These must all be with a measure of precision, before widespread relief operations get into full gear, with "all hands on deck." Indeed after twenty years of 'touch and go' disaster response, there is still a very far way to go in the planning processes.
CDC Handling Disaster Responses
It was explained previously (on dealing with the East Coast Crime Emergency) that the CDC was structured to cover all emergencies from National to District level for relief operations and crime emergencies. The officials involved in the CDC still do not seem to have a clue on what is required. The first requirement in disaster relief operations is the mobilization of the relevant (trained) volunteers in the areas affected. Those districts and groups would have been armed with relevant inventories and households information to immediately facilitate the search, rescue and evacuation where required. Having obtained such data, then the relief operation is informed to open up already identified Shelters where necessary.
The foregoing would help to effect a more equitable distribution of relief supplies, leaving no room for complaints and agitation. Response at all levels would be easily coordinated thereby, and distribution of relief supplies satisfactorily accomplished. The evidence shows that no such structure or information was in place. Road blocks as in Bagotsville and Pouderoyen, were set up to block supplies, Price-gouging was done by the unscrupulous, and section(s) of the population moved to establish their own relief committees.
Disaster Response: Limitations and Lack of Collaboration and Preplanning
Disasters of all kinds sap the resources of the communities hard hit. The most devastating disasters in Guyana are floods. Yet it is quite a disappointment that there was never any national advice for citizens living on our narrow and vulnerable coastal strip to be equipped with dinghies or small boats as a disaster-preparedness equipment. There are items which are always immediately required and could be kept on standby for immediate action to the areas potable water, medicine for dysentery, diarrhea and any other diseases (cholera, typhoid, malaria, etc.), food, shelter and bedding. It is always advisable that food items be dry, light-weight, pre-cooked (or not requiring much cooking) and covering basic nutritional needs.
Effective disaster response can only be accomplished if the relevant agencies are efficient with their functions. Such are the function of the Civil Defence Commission, (in collaboration with the National Relief Council, and the Community Policing Committee). Despite their regular involvement in relief operations, the agencies involved can scarcely confirm that they have individual plans in place. Their history of relief operation in Guyana seems to revolve around the limited 'ad hoc' actions which regularly involve only the personnel on the NRC, the Red Cross and CDC (with the army and police). Yet the needs of widespread disasters still escape the thinking of these officials. This incompetence or neglect is going on for too long and must stop. Plans must be in place and actions must be anticipatory of the kinds of widespread disasters as we are now experiencing.
Lack of Disaster Preparedness
In the Caribbean currently, Mr. Jeremy Collymore heads the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) based at the Garrison in Barbados. Sixteen Caribbean States were reported to participate in CDERA. Twenty-nine started out. Where are the others? A special body, the Regional Security System (RSS) was set up, envisioned to bolster the security needs of the Caribbean States. But how many States make good their support for the joint venture? How many make their annual financial contribution to the Regional Disaster Preparedness and Response body or its secretariat? Has CARICOM done enough to push Disaster Preparedness in the Caribbean? The evidence before us presents is disappointing.
The regular response to Disasters continues to draw the usual knee-jerk reaction as though the relevant authorities are ignorant of all that preceded over the decades gone by. Governments of the ACP States have to build into their Annual (Recurrent and Capital Expenditure) Budgets a sizeable amount of Provisions for Emergency/Disaster Preparedness Planning. The UN sponsored the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (UN-IDNDR) more than a decade ago.
Disaster Preparedness Planning was since advocated for all underdeveloped and developing countries.
It was made clear that all the programs of Sustainable National Development, (especially in the agriculture, construction and mining industries), were exposed to the onslaughts of natural hazards, without a consorted effort at sustainability through Disaster Planning. In actual fact Disaster Preparedness Planning became a requirement, and made part, of several developmental aid packages ever since.
Time To Set Up A National Emergency Management Agency
The gravity of the Relief Operation has prompted Chief of Staff GDF Brig. Gen. Edward Collins to brief the President on the need to re-constituting the CDC. This recommendation is not new. It is hoped that this is intended to consolidate the various splintered bodies into one viable Agency. Such was a proposed by the setting up of a National Emergency Management Agency or Authority (NEMA) to be constituted for response to all disasters. If the CDC was to be restructured, the time is ripe for the NEMA concept to be formalized. Guyana does not need the overseas experts to forge this restructuring. Let them do an assessment and advise the Government on short and mid term courses of action. Let the CDB or other International agencies provide the funding. Guyanese are quite capable of putting a viable program in place. We may need the overseas experts, but Guyanese experts would better relate to the requirements of the nation.
The splintering and impotence of the CDC was decried in earlier articles. It is for this reason that the Joint Operation Centre was formed. There is continued ineptitude and lack of foresight and coordination of the splintered agencies, which play such closely related roles. There is no alternative for coordination. (At the International level in Emergency Response is the concept of "Joint Incident Command System" and in Warfare, there is "Unified Command or Joint Chief of Staff" as with the Allies.) All of these were implemented to facilitate coordination. The key issue in disaster response is 'Coordination'.
Finally, disasters will never cease. People have no other choice but to use foresight to identify these disasters and wisdom in pre-planning to help grapple with their impacts. It is imperative that the Government move early to set up the National Emergency Management Agency or Authority (NEMA), incorporating CDC, NRC, the RDC'S, the PSC, the GDF, the GPF and the CPC/CPG's and the various voluntary non-governmental organizations, with strategically ecentralized Regional Committees.
Seopaul Singh is a Certified Emergency Manager and a Certified Security Manager. He was a civil servant in Guyana for 22 years and functioned as Deputy Executive Officer in the Civil Defence Commission in Guyana (1983-1988). He was also the chief Allocation and Distribution Officer (1979-1983).