Government has put a number of measures in place to strengthen Barbados’ resilience to the impact of a natural disaster, and the country’s ability to return to a state of normalcy.
However, Minister of Home Affairs, Edmund Hinkson, is warning that such a move does not discount the responsibility of residents to ensure that they put their own measures in place to protect their families, properties and businesses.
In a plea to the nation, the Minister said: “Cabinet can ready the country and lead the way, but it takes everyone playing their respective roles. Government has done its best to prepare the country,” he said during a press conference to mark the start of the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane season on Saturday at the Department of Emergency Management.
Mr. Hinkson outlined that government had increased the national storage capacity of major institutions; purchased generators and surge protectors; and increased the water storage capacity at entities such as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to ensure a water supply for up to seven days.
“We have on order 22 generators for hurricane shelters…. We installed potable water [tanks] at schools being used as hurricane shelters; we improved the bathroom facilities at the schools; and we voted more money in Parliament, approximately $4.5 million, to improve the state of the schools in Barbados, some of which are hurricane shelters,” he said, adding that a number of schools being used as shelters will also benefit from fire safety equipment and fire extinguishers.
In addition, the Home Affairs Minister disclosed that money was voted for the Roof Replacement Programme, and government was in the process of “actualizing” the policy and legislative framework to roll out the project in an effort to make Barbados more resilient.
In agriculture, he said Memoranda of Understanding were signed with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to ensure that there was an adequate supply of food on the island, while government also moved to increase the number of warehouses across the island to store food supplies.
In addition, Mr. Hinkson disclosed that the Government of Japan had donated 11 storage bins, 10 of which were already installed and the other to be installed in St. Andrew.
These bins, he explained, were located in strategic areas across the parishes and contained personal protective equipment, generators, chain saws and other items which might be needed to effect an emergency response.
In an effort to promote resilience, government is also turning its attention to flood prone areas. The Home Affairs Minister noted that the Drainage Division, which falls under the Ministry of the Environment and National Beautification, had been working since last June to clear gullies.
He outlined that government had implemented plans to ensure that the traditional flood prone areas such as Murphy’s Pasture and the Bayland in St. Michael were protected where possible.
“We have pumps on order. If they don’t come before the heavy rains, we have contingency plans in place,” he said, noting a drainage study was also conducted in Holetown to address problems in that area.
During his presentation, the Minister further noted that Parliament voted $10 million last June for the Ministry of Transport, Works and Maintenance to purchase tractor and bobcat equipment which will be used to clear the roads of Barbados. “Some of these are still on order, but some have come in,” he said.
In the area of communication, Mr. Hinkson said government purchased 17 satellite phones to ensure the continued flow of information in the event of a disaster, while the United States government “loaned” the country an additional two phones.
“Communication is an important aspect of our preparedness and resilience in the event of a disaster,” he said, adding that the Barbados Government Information Service was also on board to ensure that credible information was disseminated.
The Minister also gave the assurance that the island’s records relating to critical documents such as birth and marriage certificates were backed-up and stored off island in the event that buildings here were destroyed.
And, while it has ensured that government documents are backed up, Government has also moved to increase the number of Category One shelters by 11, 10 of which are in St. Michael.
Minister Hinkson also disclosed that an additional 11 shelters were also under consideration.
Noting that officials had instituted a number of measures to ensure the continuity of government in the wake of a disaster, he called on residents to secure their properties and communities.
“Government cannot do everything in this country. We are doing our best, but residents and communities have to do their part. We want you to insure your homes…,” he said, noting government was looking for a way to facilitate devising a plan to insure all homes in the country.
In addition, Mr. Hinkson also urged home and property owners to ensure that trees and branches around their homes and properties were trimmed; doors and windows secured from flying objects, and a “safe room” identified in the home to ride out the storm.
Acting Deputy Director of the Barbados Meteorological Service, Clairmonte Williams, said this year’s predictions called for a slightly below average to slightly above average season.
He added that the projections also indicated that there was a greater likelihood of more systems affecting the Lesser Antilles this year.
“What it does not say is which island and what strength. Though the predictions may give a guide, the level of preparedness still has to be the same,” he emphasised.