Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Garth Rattray | Jamaica’s worst natural disaster

Published:Monday | September 18, 2017 | 12:00 AM

We live in constant fear of dangerous natural disasters. We all stress out over the 'big one': that massive quake that will bring earth-heaving waves of devastation when the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone suddenly shifts big time. Even much lesser earthquakes illicit significant pain. No one is comfortable when the earth beneath their feet shakes uncontrollably.

Then there's the ever-present threat of powerful, malevolent weather phenomena around this time every year. Many of us have bad memories of a major hurricane that killed some of our fellow citizens, wrecked many houses, flooded out thousands of people, decimated our infrastructure, and disrupted the public utilities for weeks or months. Nowadays, tropical storms and hurricanes have a rather nasty habit of rapidly growing into destructive monsters that lay waste anything and everything in their path.

Yes, natural disasters are, indeed, extremely scary. However, they are by no means the greatest threat to our country. Our greatest threat isn't even our paucity of resources or our lack of sufficient production and exports. The greatest danger to our survival is not our fiscal deficits or the mounting international concerns that we owe and/or which have 'invested' in businesses here that extract precious foreign-exchange earnings to feed their shareholders abroad.

Our greatest threat is from our own people - those home-grown selfish, undisciplined, corrupt, violent, ignorant citizens who are hell-bent on transforming our society into a 'do-whatever-you-please' anarchy.

I've spent countless hours trying to figure out why our leaders can't understand that one of the things that must be done, if we are to significantly reduce crime and corruption, is to regain control of the streets. The aggression, indiscipline and lawlessness that are the product of broken homes, fractured families and disunited communities have insidiously bled over into the streets and is rapidly taking over as the new norm.




Recently, on a Friday afternoon, I witnessed motorists form five lanes of traffic as they approached the southern intersection of Hope Road, Trafalgar Road and Waterloo Road. There were three lanes where they ought to be, but the road hogs in the turning (right) lane were going straight. Additionally, other drivers proceeded up Hope Road by going around the concrete divider and occupying two lanes that are meant for south-bound traffic. Most of those were also going straight up Hope Road. It was an orgy of pandemonium, pure and simple.

The mass chaos is not confined to traffic. I watched as people commandeered a sidewalk and methodically constructed a shop/cookery over a few weeks. The structure is as wide as the former sidewalk, is about 30 feet long, and approximately seven and a half feet high. All this took place in full view of everyone, yet the authorities responsible for building permits and sidewalk maintenance have remained conveniently blind.

I know for a fact that the breach was reported, but nothing has been done. Now, since other businesses partially occupy the opposite sidewalk, pedestrians must walk in the roadway and drivers have to crawl through a single lane because customers and debris often obstruct the free flow of traffic.

In spite of the blatant, egregious infraction, in spite of the daily threat to property and life, and although it was reported and now highlighted by this article, I'll bet that nothing is going to be done about it.

There is very harmful group psychology at work in this country. When people realise that they can get away with a lot right out in the public domain; when people don't feel the restraint, strong control, order and discipline of the authorities, then anything goes, anywhere, any time. Only when we control the streets will we control crime.

If we add up the suffering, destruction and deaths from storms and earthquakes, they pale in comparison to the loss in life, property and the economy caused by crime and violence. If you calculate the financial losses from all our natural disasters, they are inconsequential when compared to losses from corruption at every level of society.

We are our own greatest threat, our worst 'natural disaster'. Unless our elected leaders stop putting party politics before all else when making management decisions, nothing will change, and we'll continue living in a disaster zone.

- Garth Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to