Labor Administration Response to its Epic Failures: Offer your home as a Hurricane Shelter!

It is exactly 8 months since hurricane Maria devastated the Island of Dominica.  It is now about 2 weeks before the next hurricane season and despite all the International Aid  that the Administration in Dominica has received and, is still receiving, the Country is ill-prepared to face the next hurricane Season. Why? It could be that the Labor Administration is still overwhelmed and lack the necessary skills to coordinate multiple projects which is what was needed in order to have some semblance of preparation?

This lack of preparation was on full display on May 10 2018 when, at a signing Ceremony with the World Bank, Mr. Skerritt admitted that Dominica was lacking adequate shelters and that no new shelters had been constructed.  How could that be? What happened to the 11 Million Euros from the EU? Was Mr. Skerrit joking when he stated on January 19th 2018,  in a regional Press Release,  that 11 Million Euros (XCD $37 Million) was about to be transferred to Dominica and this money would be used to build hurricane shelters? He further stated that each shelter would include, "but not limited to, large halls, showers, large kitchen, beds, generators, independent water tank, energy efficient system"? Was that just for consumption of the regional press? See Press release, last paragraph here

This predicament should not come as a surprise. In mid- October 2017, roughly six weeks before the end of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season, the issue of short term housing plan was raised on this blog. In particular, we noted that Dominica had to grapple with the massive task of re-establishing housing stock over a 7-8 month period before the start of 2018 Hurricane season. While a long term approach was considered most solid strategy to building housing capacity, a short-term housing plan was considered critical given the 8-months window between time of Maria's devastation and the commencement of the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane season. To maximize public safety in the event of an overly active 2018 Hurricane season, we offered up the following for considerations:-

1. Relocate persons now living in Shelters.
2. Assist those now living in roofless, but otherwise, structurally sound home.
3. Building dedicated Community Hurricane Shelters.
4. Relocating those living in valleys and riverbeds that are prone to flooding.

Specific details to effect these strategies were outlined in the post here. It is obvious that this government cannot prioritize or delegate. The building of dedicated Community Shelters should have been a priority.  The Administration could have sought out the expertise of UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) which is skilled in putting up such structures quickly in a  resilient manner. Instead, Mr. Skerrit proceeded to ask the citizens to volunteer their homes as shelters.  Doesn't the PM know that something like that has to be organized? Has the government canvassed citizens on the use of  their home? Have they selected particular homes? How about committing to provide such homeowners with a generator, water and food. Or did the PM just come up with that idea on the spur of the moment?

Without doubt, the Labor Administration response to the crisis was not to get Dominica back to normal as quickly as possible but, to descend into the bowels of politics: politicize relief supplies, hoard building material and hand out no-bid housing construction contracts to cronies. At the same time the Administration has been blaming the Opposition for not doing anything; in other words, 'don't look at us, look over there'.  Indeed, the Labor Administration in their zeal to capitalize on what they see as a "windfall" have wasted valuable time in which they could have been working on multiple fronts to prepare for the 2018 hurricane season. The result is that many individuals and communities do not feel any safer than they were in the immediate period following Maria destruction in September 2017. With many roofs still uncovered and so many Hurricane shelters out of commission the vulnerability index has remained in the stratosphere.

In the matter of assisting citizens to replace their roofs, the Administration could have assisted the public by placing price control on some basic items like galvanize, ply board and wood. The lack of price control has made the island's rebuilding woes very complicated as an inconsiderate private sector continues to 'jack-up' prices on building material with each new shipment. The rebuilding challenge has been further confounded by some contractors who are charging excessively for their service as they see this as an opportunity to 'get rich quick'. These problems could have been avoided if the administration had been proactive or had a non-political approach to the rebuilding effort. Recently, when confronted by the problem, Foreign minister Baron's weak defense was that Dominica has a 'Capitalist' economy and government can not interfere in the marketplace. Is it coincidence that several of the building supply merchants doing the gouging are also Administration sympathizers or companies in which some ministers have a controlling interest? No wonder the island is in this reconstruction quagmire! 

Now, 17 days left before the commencement of 2018 Hurricane season, what can be done? It is certainly insufficient time to build new Public shelters. However, river dredging should continue, strengthening existing, compromised shelter should be undertaken if feasible and every effort should be made to  accelerate the distribution of building material to private citizens who now live in roofless, but otherwise, structurally sound homes in safe locations. The saving grace: peak hurricane activity is probably 3 month away so we need to 'make hay while the sun shines'. Simply wasting time playing politics with peoples lives is disgraceful and despicable.

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