ST. VINCENT: – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has reminded Vincentians of the importance of disaster management, noting the potential impact of natural disasters in one country on other nations.

“Disaster Management is more than just preparations for the hurricane season. It must be imbedded in [all] aspect of our lives to ensure that our families are safe,” he said in a national address to mark the start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Gonsalves’ caution came even as emergency workers in Central America struggled to reach communities cut off by Tropical Storm Agatha.

At least 179 people have been killed and scores of people were still missing on Wednesday after landslides swept away entire villages on the weekend.

A weekend tropical storm caused heavy damage in Central America, killing at least 179 people in the region. (Photo: New York Times)

“While we were fortunate last year, 2009, as it was one of the least active seasons on record, with the fewest number of storms since 1997. We cannot afford to let our guards down and become complacent this year,” Gonsalves said in his address.

He said this year’s hurricane season was forecast to be “an unusually active one”, citing scientists at Colorado University, adding that citizens should ensure that steps are taken to protect their lives and property.

In March, SVG was placed on drought alert after experiencing lower than average rainfall since October 2009, which affected a number of sectors, including agriculture, forestry, and tourism.

Gonsalves also spoke of natural and other disasters across the world including earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Turkey, California, Sumatra, and China. (Go to the homepage to subscribe to I Witness-News)

He mentioned mudflows in Peru, California and Portugal, floods in Russia, Brazil and the USA, and the volcanic eruptions in Iceland, which ground air transportation to a halt.

He further said the BP oils spill in the Gulf of Mexico had been going on for over a month and was likely to cause serious environmental impacts and a huge amount of resources to clean up.

“One may wonder what all this mean for St Vincent and the Grenadines, and may assume that we are far removed from the many disasters being experienced in various parts of the world. However, when a disaster strikes in one place, there is a trickledown effect and economic fall off in rest of the world, since we are all interconnected,” Gonsalves said.

“It may mean job cuts and pay cuts for our friends and loved ones, little or no remittances coming home to relatives and friends, funds for programmes and projects in developing countries being diverted to assist disaster affected countries, cut backs on investments and reduction in trading, tourism, and other contributors to our economy,’ he added.

Gonsalves told citizens that the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) had noted that drought management was still a low priority regionally and had received minimum attention in the CDEMA participating states.

He said his administration had reviewed the Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) Strategy and Framework, a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) initiative designed as a response to disaster experiences in the Caribbean region.

SVG endorsed the initiative in 2001 and re-examined it, taking into consideration global catastrophe and the need in the region to accelerate initiatives to promote disaster loss reduction with an aim at achieving sustainable development in the Caribbean.

“Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) is the management of all hazards, through all phases of the disaster management cycle — prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and rehabilitation — by all people, public and private sectors, all segments of civil society and the general population in hazard prone areas,” Gonsalves said.

PM Gonsalves has warned citizens against complacency as the hurricane season begins. (File photo)

He said his administration had continued to develop and enhance the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) and the Disaster Enhancement Project would see an additional five satellite warehouse being prepositioned in the Grenadines and rural communities.

Further, NEMO continued to cooperate with over 40 community groups to empower communities to be more resilient and reduce risk at the community level throughout SVG. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)

The organisation had implemented several programmes, including the earthquake contingency plan and earthquake readiness programme and the School and Public Building and Safety programme, launched in 2009.

“The Government of SVG will do all we can with the resources we have to ensure that the necessary training and systems are in place to reduce the likely effects of hazards such as hurricanes,” he said.

Gonsalves, who also has ministerial responsibility for disaster management and national security, appealed to Vincentians to pay attention to weather advisories and follow the advice which comes from reputable sources, noting that information on the Internet is not always generated from correct sources and “sometimes is not applicable for our local situation”.

“While we cannot prevent hurricanes and tropical storm we have the power to mitigate or reduce the likely impacts on our people and their environment.

“…I am urging all Vincentians to get as much information as possible and use the information to ensure that every family, every business, every institution, organisation, ministry and department have a plan which will provide guidance on how to prepare for hurricanes and other hazards before, during and after they occur,” he said.