Head of TEMA on Disaster Preparedness: | Local News

IN the event of a claim, can you take care of yourself for 72 hours?

The question was posed to citizens last week by Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Director Allan Stewart, who says there needs to be more aggressive preparation for the effects of climate change as Trinidad -and-Tobago continues to be heavily affected by adverse weather events.

Stewart was speaking in light of the bad weather last week which saw many parts of the two islands severely flooded and residents stranded for days.

Calling on citizens to prepare on an individual level, Stewart said in an interview with the Express last week:

“I want to remind citizens with the onset of climate change that we have a responsibility as individuals to understand that we share the planet with different kinds of dangers and that it is important, very imperative that we prepare for deal with emergencies, especially when they occur on this scale.

“You must be able to take care of yourself for at least 72 hours. It should be a requirement of every household in Trinidad and Tobago, that you can take care of yourself for 72 hours. If you can’t do that, you’re not ready, you’re not prepared.

building codes

Stewart, however, said there is a limit to what you can prepare for a natural disaster.

“Climate change and climate adaptation roughly lends itself to what you see when you have excessive short-term rainfall and as a result you have flash floods and landslides of the magnitude that we’ve seen . So how do you adequately prepare for this? he asked.

But, he says, there are a lot of things that can be done.

“Somewhere along the line we have to consider that these small island states in the Caribbean that we have better building codes, that we have better land use policy and our engineering when it comes to our road network , our drainage, all of those things need to be improved.

Using the city of Port of Spain as an example, Stewart said T&T suffered from aging infrastructure.

“In Port of Spain you have very narrow streets, what can you do there? There are old drainage systems, old pipe networks…so how do you do that? But you must constantly improve and adapt aggressively in the wake of the onset of climate change.

Stewart said he supports Arima Mayor Cagney Casimire’s call for a “climate fund” that can be accessed immediately in the event of a disaster.

But he added that this should not only apply to hydro-meteorological events, but also to seismic events.

“We are also in an earthquake zone. Without warning, we could have a severe earthquake. You have just faced one type of danger and here you have another, so an emergency fund is very, very important,” he said.

worst case scenario

Stewart said funding is always a concern as he noted the extent of the damage in Tobago.

He said last week’s event resulted in more than 345 damage reports, including 218 landslides. Some 75% of these landslides will require a retaining wall which can be very expensive, he added.

“One of these walls sometimes costs over a million dollars…so it will crush your budget. Sometimes the cost of the retaining wall far exceeds the value of the property you are trying to protect. So we are trying to see how we can best coordinate all of this.

Stewart said Tobago continues to prepare for the “worst-case scenario” of a major hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster.

Part of those preparations, he said, was establishing a team of 1,000 volunteers spread across various communities who will be equipped and trained to respond to events in their communities as they occur.

“Those are the levels of readiness that we continue to do. It’s a tricky question when we’re asked if we’re ready. The answer is yes, but at the same time there is still a lot to do and we have to be a bit aggressive,” he said.