Orville Taylor, Contributor
She should be perhaps more appropriately called Windy than Sandy, although the residents of Harbour View and other beach communities might agree with her name, as the sea and beach have moved closer to home. However, the category one hurricane which came upon us like Nicodemus was a scare. And thankfully, the damage is much less than we could have faced. After all, Gustav was not even a hurricane but he blew our shirts off and washed away billions. Even more amazingly, she was a direct hit as this wench made an unusual approach, coming from the bottom instead of the side. Jah was good to us, Sandy turned category two as her passport was presented to Cuban immigration. He and the ancestors saw that our ever decreasing cup was running over.
Generally, tropical cyclones travel west from off the coast of Africa and make their way into the Caribbean, sort of like the path taken by the ships carrying our ancestors. Then meteorologists struggle to plot its projected path and I, amusingly, often remark that the hard scientists have less accuracy in predicting the path of hurricanes than soft scientists like sociologists who similarly predict the paths of young people and their life chances.
With the exception of Flora in 1963, female-named cyclones have typically not been the ones to cause mayhem and destruction. Thus, when Rafael was active last week, I was glad he was not coming here unless of course it was a female disguising in male attire. Nevertheless, we have had brushes with both Emily in 2006 and Nicole in 2010 and those of us who used to spend pennies, recall Gilda, who caused massive flooding in the 1970s and left thousands sleeping in shelters, including the National Stadium.
Sandy has not been particularly bad to us. Praise God, there has only been one fatality inasmuch as all lives are equally important and although there has not yet been a complete assessment of the economic impact and structural damage, it is safe to conclude that this is not one of those major disastrous occurrences. Furthermore, this is a hurricane and relative to other natural phenomena, we are most well prepared for storms and other such cyclones.
too many shortcomings
However, there are some clear failings. True, there will always be a shortage of capital. Thus, the resources needed to do relief and other things might not be available.
Nevertheless, I recall in the post-Ivan period when, in this verycolumn, I pointed out the need for legislation to forcibly evacuate residents who live in disaster-prone areas. This, of course, takes in mind the fact that close to half a million persons in this country live on lands for which they have no legal claim, and some estimate that as many as a million do. Despite the improvement in housing solutions evidenced by the reducing household sizes by almost two persons fewer since Gilbert, too many uncensused persons live on unliveable lands. Persons inhabiting slippery slopes, gully banks, flood plains and river beds. In another column, the genesis of this problem and government irresponsibility in making this occur, will be discussed. Nonetheless, unplanned settlements are a major challenge.
Yet, an interesting twist to this is that a large number of communities are disaster-prone, and one wonders how much state corruption or negligence was involved. Two years ago, it was revealed that of the applications which are rejected by the government watchdog, National Environment Planning Agency, more than 50 per cent of them are subsequently approved by the political directorate. Therefore, it is not surprising that upscale communities teeter on hillsides and gorges just like the squatters. A community like New Haven, despite the residence of a large number of my friends and 'parisheenas', should never have been approved for anything except wetlands.
Greater Portmore is only greater in the sense that it is a prime crocodile habitat and made with incomplete drains. Greater is the problem that in moderate floods, crocodylus acutus, the third largest crocodilian and the only native animal in Jamaica that can kill a human, has easy access to people's verandas, their dogs, cats and toddlers. Asinine legislators enacted laws to protect the creatures but none to protect its habitat. My cup is full to the brim.
Still, this hurricane presented a fillip for the government, which is facing a crisis of another sort. Our net international reserves are at the lowest in years and the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is still not signed after a period in which a woman could easily have conceived and given birth. And the Man a Yard and the fat man are in Parliament doing politics.
Whatever might be the blame game, unemployment is up, youth unemployment is three to four times the national average, and poverty is higher than it was four years ago. Furthermore, as indicated in other forums and columns, the working poor, that section of the labour force that is underemployed, is just waiting to again be crushed by IMF-blamed and led strategies. More Jamaicans now have internal plumbing and electricity as provided by the Jamaica Public Service Company and, notably, there has been an improvement in the numbers of persons who have the pleasure of pulling a lever and seeing their bodily waste disappear in a whirlpool, instead of an abyss. However, the total number of Jamaicans who have no toilet facilities at all is almost exactly what it was a decade ago. The naysayers might argue that I am chatting crap, but the data might offend but they make scents.
Although the crime statistics are better than they were three years ago, sex crimes and violence against women and children by young males are now showing signs of improvement. A decade ago, I observed that these crimes would increase if the then and current pattern of youth male marginality persisted.
With the hurricane hitting, there is now an excuse and it can be used to make the case for greater levels of international assistance and perhaps a softer set of terms from the IMF. If one uses the same type of accounting as went on with the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme, the level of damage can appear to be of crisis proportions, and as we know, politicians are not averse to exaggeration.
Indeed, one would note that when Gilbert came and devastated us in 1988 (we suffered by official reports more than $2,000,000,000 in housing damage alone with more than 150,000 dwellings seriously affected or destroyed), the IMF gave us a deal that was more humane.
Notwithstanding that, the IMF agreements have never been very helpful for the Jamaican worker on the whole, and the poor. All agreements have seen a worsening of labour standards, widening of the gap between rich and poor, pressure to spend less on education and reduction in the value of the dollar. This is a storm in a shrinking cup but Government had better get smart and think of how to prevent the problems from growing from a B-cup to a D or to an F-cup.
On another note, I want to thank my readers who double as listeners on my radio show. With a peak listenership of 110,000 on Wednesdays, it is 20,000 more than any other talk show at any time on any station. Hopefully, I will be even better to you in the coming months.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.