It was pleasing to read that P.A.H.O consultant Dr. Mariano Bonet, congratulated the government and the Civil Defence Commission for their disaster readiness plan, which focused primarily on epidemic control. While this is important, there is a question that should be asked, is the CDC as equally prepared to deal with a serious natural disaster? The increase in natural disasters worldwide should be enough to put the CDC on notice.
I remember two years ago, a colleague and I were discussing the 2005 flood that decimated our respective villages and many others along the East Coast of Demerara. One of the issues that we discussed was the unpreparedness of the CDC to deal with a disaster of that magnitude. To be fair to the CDC, they were caught off guard as were other emergency agencies and they did the best that they could under the circumstances.
However, I, like many other Guyanese, would think that the CDC’s planning and readiness would have improved significantly since that event. What I find alarming about the CDC is their tunnel vision when planning for natural disasters. Their focus is always primarily on flooding and droughts, what about aftershocks or even a Tsunami? Guyana has a history of experiencing the former and the latter is surely not inconceivable given the steady increase in seismic activity in the Americas and the Caribbean.
The CDC needs to start thinking outside of the box and not limit itself. Imagine a scenario where Guyana experiences an aftershock with a magnitude of 6.0, that lasts 15 to 20 seconds and causes significant damage to the fragile buildings and infrastructure within Georgetown and its periphery, as well as result in civilian casualties. What system or plans does the CDC have in place to deal with a potential catastrophe of this nature?
I am encouraged by the fact that the CDC conducts simulations to prepare for serious health threats, however, the same should be done when planning for natural disasters that are both common and uncommon. The CDC should seek the aid of international agencies that specialize in disaster simulations, so that a national natural disaster plan can be developed and the necessary systems created to help us prepare for any such eventuality.
Some of these systems, if developed, may never be applied in our lifetime but at least they will be there for future generations to use if the need arises. Lastly, I would encourage the CDC and the ministries of Education and Health to introduce disaster preparation training in schools, health facilities and public agencies, so that our citizens will not be unprepared if a natural disaster strikes. That leads me to another question, do schools, health facilities and public agencies still practice emergency drills?
Do not be complacent CDC, be proactive, evolve, so that we as a nation can be prepared for whatever nature might throw at us.