Editorial, The Reporter

By Harry Lawrence - Publisher

Nemo Minister Melvin Hulse was right when he said that Hurricane Richard was “a wakeup call”.

There is nothing like a crisis to show us our weaker side. In this world of realpolitik where you pay for your mistakes, it is better to have a small crisis than a big one. We are grateful that Hurricane Richard was a category one hurricane, not category two or three or four.

If we may digress a bit to illustrate a point, we would point out that we at the Reporter have been preparing for years for the “big one”. We have framed all our doors and windows with wood against the masonry, and we use plywood with “Kwik Foam” sealant and screw the plywood against the wooden frame to form a water-tight bond.

We prepared not knowing whether this plan would work. Last Monday we found out. It worked! But, there were complications.

In a neighbourhood where the water rose to 24 inches outside our building, we had only three inches inside, and we managed to filter out the mud. But there was a small leak in one of the plywood barriers, and the water found its way inside. It was not enough to disrupt our operations, but we lost time and some pieces of equipment, such as UPS units which were on the floor..

This small crisis taught us a valuable lesson. Next time we will use new and thicker plywood and we will insert more drywall screws to lock it into place.

We share this experience to illustrate a point.

Sometimes you can be so focused on meeting a crisis that you neglect something important which only shows up later.

This is what happened to NEMO and its designated helper agencies in charge of giving out relief supplies after the storm.

The Belize City Council, charged with distributing emergency food, did not think the problem through, and sought to handle the work by committee. There was a committee designated to go out and assess the need, and this committee had to come back and report. Only then was it possible to distribute the food which families desperately needed. Two days after the storm there were still some families with hungry children who had not been fed.

The committee approach is all wrong! The City Council should have had a team of two dozen social workers ready to go into the worst hit areas of Belize City - Yarborough and Queen’s Square on Monday morning, immediately after the storm. These people, working in pairs, would cover the stricken area to make an assessment of all those in need.

But they should have been authorized to issue food coupons on the spot, based on their on-the-ground assessment, taking careful note of who received the coupons.

The conversation would have gone something like this:

S.Worker: Take this coupon and go today to (wherever the distribution depot is located, hopefully not far from the stricken area). The people at the depot will give you one week’s supply of food for you and your children. We don’t have any water today, but if you take this same coupon tomorrow to ( wherever the water distribution depot is located) you will get drinking water for yourself and your children. Take care of these supplies, because they have to last one week.

The emergency food depot would take the coupon, and stamp it so that it can be used again to get drinking water. The emergency water depot would keep the coupon and turn it in later for accounting purposes.

The same team of social workers would go out one week later to make a new assessment, and follow the same procedure that they did before, giving out food for the following week.

In dealing with a crisis of this nature, it is important to have sufficient people on the ground with authority to act. And of course, it is essential to have the food and water supplies ready for distribution.

Next time, aided by hindsight, we will do a better job.