Disaster preparedness debate

Tobago House of Assembly.
More than 50% of the homes in Tobago are disasters waiting to happen even before there is a natural disaster, THA Chief Secretary Orville London disclosed on Thursday.

“It goes even further; I have to say this soft, I don’t even know if I should say this loud, an overwhelming majority of persons or 74% of respondents so far did not get planning permission when constructing their homes,” he told the plenary sitting of the House of Assembly during a Tobago disaster preparedness debate.

He added that this placed a significant burden on the THA because a house that does not have planning permission will not be insured and when that house was not insured and that house received any kind of damage then it meant that the THA will become the insurable last resort.

Quoting from a report done by the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) on an Impact Assessment Ratio and Special Needs Survey, London said of the 3,000 homes surveyed, 86.1% of the rafters were not attached to hurricane straps which were inexpensive to install, guttering was not installed in 60% of the homes visited, 35.1% had rain guided runoffs away from the foundation of the house while surface drains were present in 62.7%. He added that an overwhelming majority of the houses were constructed close to drains, 56.6% of them were constructed on slopes, of these only 25% had retaining walls constructed to stabilise the slopes. Of the houses visited about 30% were prone to landslides and only 41% had storm water control.

The Chief Secretary said disaster management has to be a collaboration effort that has to pervade the society and it cannot be a response after and called on the business community, NGOs and CBOs to assist the Assembly in its disaster preparedness efforts. “It has to be about the level of preparedness, it has to be the level of responsibility and the desire and the will to make a small investment now so that you can prevent a disastrous burden later on,” he added.

He said in Tobago the expectation on the part of most people was that the THA will take full responsibility for bringing the property back to the state before the disaster but that was what insurance companies were supposed to do on the condition that all the necessary things were done, such as installing guttering, hurricane straps, treat with the runoffs, and also ensure that there was planning permission which would afford the kind of advice and support needed.

London said he was most concerned with the findings of the impact assessment ratio and special needs survey which were worth noting and the Assembly had to respond. “The purpose of the survey is to determine the level of resilience existing in communities and the varying needs of those challenged among us, so there is a twofold purpose, you want to ensure you know where the special needs people are residing, what their particular conditions are, so in case of a natural disaster or an impending disaster you would know how to treat with them,” he said.

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