Feature: Tsunami Alert – One Year Later

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Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs, Adriel Brathwaite (FP)

Last Sunday, March 11, marked the one-year anniversary since a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Tohoku region of Japan, resulting in a massive tsunami that devastated many of the country’s coastal areas and claimed the lives of over 22,000 people.

Consequently, this disaster served as a strong reminder that Barbados and the region, if truly cognisant of its development would place significant emphasis on its risk reduction and our ability to respond in the event of a tsunami.

This was emphasised recently by Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs, Adriel Brathwaite, at a public lecture entitled:?? The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: One Year Later at the Henry Fraser Lecture Theatre, UWI, Cave Hill Campus. It was held under the auspices of the Department of Emergency Management’s Standing Committee on Coastal Hazards. ??The featured speaker was the Chair of the Caribbean Tsunamis and Coastal Hazards Warning System, Dr. Lorna Inniss.

Describing the events last year when Barbados and the rest of the world watched transfixed at the unfolding of the disaster in Japan, the Minister said one of the things he noted was that "Japan,?? with its first world status and its knowledge of tsunamis, still lost about 20,000 lives.?? So, there were a significant number of issues that would have arisen as a result of that experience and we need to learn from these experiences," he stressed.

Remarking that Barbadians often thought that Barbados was God’s country, Mr. Brathwaite stated that we have a habit of believing that we are immune to natural hazards for some reason.?? In fact, he observed, "when we think of natural hazards Barbadians tend to think only in terms of hurricanes."

So what does this mean for Barbados? And, are we as a country and by extension the region prepared if God forbid such a disaster occurs??? To this end, the Home Affairs Minister outlined his concern at this country’s ability to respond to natural hazards and tsunamis among them.

"The Government, itself, has placed emphasis on our ability to respond.?? And, it’s one of these areas where we have to be sure that from generation to generation there are persons like Dr. Inniss, because we tend to get into a sense of complacency as individuals and as a country, if, indeed, events do occur.

"We must ensure that as a country we are able to respond.?? We must take our planning seriously … I know that one of the things that Dr. Inniss suggested is that we should also have a look at how we develop our coastline.?? Another question is whether or not we should ensure that the underside of all buildings should be left empty, maybe for car parks, so that if there is a hazard that the water would flow through as opposed to flow into and damage the building completely," he suggested.

Pointing out that the Barbados Government is convinced that the most effective measure in addressing an infrequent, potentially deadly hazard is continuous public education and awareness, Mr. Brathwaite maintained "concern remains that we are living in a period of heightened coastal hazard activity across the globe, and since the

2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean countries began to work together to establish an early warning system for this and other coastal hazards.

"As a result, when the earth tremor occurred on November 29, 2007, the Caribbean tsunami early warning system was triggered.?? We received the message within one minute, and it was clear that the earthquake did not create an additional threat in the form of a tsunami.?? However, during the Haiti earthquake and tsunami, Barbados received the message very quickly, and knew that we were in no danger, but seven Haitians, who had survived the earthquake, perished in the resulting tsunami, because they did not know how to respond," the Home Affairs Minister outlined.

In essence, Barbados needs to take its preparedness levels seriously and resist the notion that since we are not in the Indian Ocean, and in the Caribbean, that we will not experience a natural hazard.?? In fact, it is widely believed that Barbados is long overdue for such an occurrence.?? To this end, it is imperative that every Barbadian and visitor be aware and alert, since this will ultimately save lives in disasters such as these.

As the Home Affairs Minister reiterated: "We want to learn from the experiences, and perhaps, the mistakes of others.?? It is not necessary for us to experience a 9.2 magnitude earthquake ourselves in order to learn what is an appropriate response."??

theresa.blackman@barbados.gov.bb

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