It would be a greater tragedy than already has unfolded since October 24 if the Hurricane Sandy recovery activities were shrouded in the ugliness of Jamaican politics. Which could be the case as the island tries to salvage its social and economic future from the ravages of a late-season storm.
Before pummelling the Northeast and claiming more than 130 lives in its mad march across the Caribbean and the United States, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the eastern swathe of Jamaica with a swirling scythe that has racked up at least $5 billion in damage, preliminary data show.
Portland, St Thomas and St Mary appear to have taken the hardest hit, with the wipeout of agricultural stock, significant damage to houses and road infrastructure, and an escalating crisis for thousands whose lives and livelihoods have been upended by the storm.
West Portland Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz has called on the Government to declare the parish a disaster zone, hoping this designation will magically turn on a spigot of international aid which will flood the parish with cash and kind.
Mr Vaz's apparent na´vetÚ aside, the Government's spokesperson, Ms Sandrea Falconer, seems more concerned about Jamaica's image. Her discomfort with the designation lies in the fear that the droves of tourists to Jamaica will dry up.
On Thursday, Mr Vaz fired a salvo accusing the Government's argument as being "insensitive, hypocritical and baseless".
It would be shameful, and unfortunate, if the response to a horrific hurricane is outshone by an ego-flexing sideshow. The quibbling must end.
With the potentially deep impact on Jamaica's already hobbling economy, the Simpson Miller administration's focus should not be whether the use of particular nomenclature looks good to tourists. That cannot trump the Government's mandate to rehabilitate the battered eastern region and, within its financial constraints, return life to a semblance of normality.
While we reserve a view on any designation of Portland as a disaster zone, this newspaper believes that such matters should be informed by analysis of extreme-weather and infrastructure experts, and social-intervention agencies, and not be influenced by public-relations sensitivities.
LESSONS FROM NEW JERSEY
Perhaps Jamaica can learn somewhat from the US state New Jersey, although the scale of death, devastation and dislocation there might dwarf ours.
Up to 2010, data from the New Jersey Department of State indicate that tourism expenditures topped US$35 billion. Domestic visitor arrivals almost reached 68 million, spurred by a leisure visit jump of 7.3 per cent.
Yet Chris Christie, the outspoken New Jersey governor and critic of US President Barack Obama, had no qualms about his state being designated a disaster zone. Now, Christie says he "doesn't give a damn about election day", focusing, rather, on rebuilding all the superstorm had torn down. He has effusively praised the president for his assistance in getting recovery efforts off the ground.
Bluntly, even in one of the most divisive and rancorous election campaigns, a Democrat and a Republican have put the good of the state, and the country, above political ends.
Said Christie: "The president ... deserves great credit ... . He gave me his number ... and told me to call him if I needed anything."
Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt by Ms Falconer and Mr Vaz, and, more broadly, the Jamaican Government and the Opposition.
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