Volcanoes, Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Flooding, Landslides, Hurricanes… and now COVID-19???

By Arnelle Isaac, MSc Crisis and Disaster Management (Student)

We all love our island for it’s natural beauty, and we boast of its many attractions and untouched splendor.  But have we ever sat and thought about how the very things that make us uniquely beautiful can cause our very destruction? What is our risk perception to disasters in Dominica? Tropical Storm Erika (2015) and Hurricane Maria (2017) have brought to the forefront of our minds the impacts of tropical cyclones and consequent risks such as flooding and landslides.

But while natural disasters have been the forefront of our minds, how many of us predicted we would be ‘grappling’ with a biological hazard such as COVID-19? While I must commend us Dominicans for handling the outbreak of this virus relatively well, I wonder how many of our resources have been reserved for the upcoming Hurricane Season. Ok, hear me out for a minute.  As a ‘developing country’, we know that we do not have infinite financial or human resources to pour into disaster mitigation, preparedness, response or recovery. 

Let’s talk about a hypothetical situation where we are in the trajectory of a Category 4 hurricane.  The authorities have been cautioning us to not let our guard down with COVID-19 and prepare for a possible second wave.  So, let’s say by this time we have re-opened our ports and we have a second wave of COVID-19.  How can we practice social distancing in hurricane shelters?  What can we put in place for infection prevention and control while preparing for a Cat 4 hurricane? Are we going to forget about the measures we put in place for COVID-19 and go ahead and put our most vulnerable groups in hurricane shelters? How much monies have we poured into protecting our people from COVID-19? Are there more to protect us from other disasters? The economic impacts of this virus are already well-known so what are we going to do when dealing with multiple disasters at once?

If this hurricane strikes, can we as a nation stand on our own to take care of our people? After Maria we had an overwhelming international response. However, we must now consider that other countries are ‘grappling’ or ‘sinking’ under the effects of COVID-19. The humanitarian community is currently stretched with responding to multiple emergencies. Supplies are already running out. Medical and emergency professionals are over worked, donors no longer generate the income they used to, and so cannot donate as much to humanitarian assistance as before. Dominicans have already lost jobs or taken salary cuts. How are we going to manage a hurricane and COVID-19? The world’s supply chain is no longer what it used to be, and many humanitarian actors are struggling with transporting resources and personnel as they previously used to. These companies also have to protect their staff. Let’s say by some chance we have some outside assistance after this hurricane. Are we going to mandate these volunteers remain in quarantine in 14 days? Would it make sense at this point? Would humanitarian actors be willing to pay their staff for the 14 day-period they would be inactive in a disaster zone?

We have been encouraged to plant in order to maintain food security. Have we taken this advice seriously? At some point ports may be closed, food security is already a major issue internationally and exacerbated by COVID-19. Maybe it’s time we return to the soil, Dominica? Maybe if we do have to deal with another disaster, we can feed ourselves. Maybe the international community needs our produce more than we notice? Now more than ever we need to unite as a country, public and private sector to truly build this resilience we have been preaching about for the past few years. The government is going to require support from local business-owners now more than ever. I do hope the private sector already has plans in place on how to help in times of disaster.

Yes, I know I am asking a lot of questions without many solutions, but these are the very questions that persons at the highest levels of disaster management internationally are now asking themselves and are searching for the answers. We cannot prevent a hurricane, or earthquake or any other of the many natural disasters we are prone to, but mitigation and preparedness have always been key. Let us continue to educate ourselves about risks and try to take as many steps as possible to reduce these risks. Start slowly stocking up on necessary supplies such as batteries, non-perishable items, while remembering to look out for our vulnerable groups particularly the elderly who may not have strong support systems.

1 Comment

  1. This is so well written! “Food for thought. “ I do hope the hurricane season can have mercy on us. The last thing we need is a repeat of Maria while battling Covid. Although, I am happy to see Dominica handling the virus so well compared to other Countries.

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