Whose responsibility is it? #26 - Stage 4: Recovery after Disaster

This has been an unprecedented 2 weeks in our Region. Three major hurricanes reaching Category 4 and 5; two major earthquakes at over 7.1 on the Richter Scale; do not represent any previous fortnight ever, and unfortunately may hereafter represent a new standard of perils. We are entering a time of that is unusual and climatic conditions that may have reached the “Tipping Point” of no return.

Natural disasters have four focal points of interest namely: scientific research and discovery; preparations for surviving; immediate human response; and the process of rebuilding. The first two are combinations of academia and government control and regulation. The third is a wide response planning for relief efforts that reduce the duration of human suffering, and the fourth is a strategic plan and a way of ensuring progress.

Having dealt with the third point in several articles and speeches (as published in publicopion.news), I will turn my thoughts to the fourth which I will call “jumping into the future at one go”. As a historical reference I will remind us of three Jamaican events that had different outcomes.

The 1692 earthquake that devastated Port Royal (then one of the centres of world trade and transshipment at that time) actually finished that city as a comparatively large and thriving location for all time. The worldwide influence was lost forever. This allowed for the growth of the previously less important ports on the East Coast of the USA (a situation that has not been reversed).

The Great Earthquake of 1907 destroyed Kingston by the combination of the tremor itself, and the subsequent fires that consumed much of the city. In fact, there are many references to the insurance lawsuits that argued if the destruction was attributable to the earthquake or the fires, which coverage (if any) would be borne by the insurance companies. That is a story for the Faculty of Law to illuminate. It is sufficient to say that the grid system of Kingston and the re-building of the city in a more modern way was a developmental outcome that served well for the following 100 years. This needs to be revisited.

The 1988 Hurricane Gilbert produced widespread damage and subsequent insurance claims that required external adjustors helping the local industry to speed up the processing of claims. This process also heralded landmark lawsuits and some notable ones went all the way to the Privy Council. However the inflows of insurance monies from overseas provided an unprecedented opportunity to make better investments.

No commercial entities replaced their old machinery with similar redundant investments, and many were “forced” to re-enter the industry at the cutting edge. In one go, we were propelled into a rapid industrial revolution, and those firms who failed to do so chose to fail, and many persons today cannot even recall their names.

Therefore the unintended outcome was a sudden increase in machine efficiencies. The figures show that we really did not capitalize on that “windfall or breeze blow” and our productivity continued to fall. This may have been due to low labour productivity, and poor management who failed to perform and motivate employees.

The point for us to note at this time is the factors of recovery and the accompanying re-investment that will either boost or reduce the productivity of those countries that were seriously damaged. They have the choice to abandon historical procedures that are no longer relevant, and step into the future.

Another point of historical reference has been the rebound of technology and efficiency in Germany after the First and Second World Wars. After the First World War (1914-18) a destroyed Germany re-tooled sufficiently to take on the military might of Europe by 1939 with some vastly improved war machines. Again they were largely destroyed in 1945 and yet have returned to technological superiority today.

So after these series of disasters we should expect that the affected nations will recover and emerge as better equipped competitors in the global marketplace. This will be done as new inflows support their recovery efforts. I will offer a few predictions.

St. Maarten will rebuild more durable structures, and even larger places designed to capture a greater share of the Cruise ship dollar. Previously crowded and cramped spaces can be re-designed to offer a greater variety of cool and attractive in-bond stores and attractions.

Barbuda will be re-built as an up-market version of Providenciales and Paradise Island, but with a better methodology for evacuation.

Puerto Rico will emerge from bankruptcy with the huge inflows of insurance money and other capital flows attracted by new Greenfield sites that have become available through the destruction of the old.

Dominica will get an adequate airport runway and will at least have an opportunity to triple tourism earnings while rebuilding the rustic in a more durable but appealing setting. Their cachet will expand from enjoying nature to a destination for the” green” travel markets of Europe.

These are just a few examples, but for SIDS (Small Island Developing States) there are real possibilities to abandon the negative permanently, and to develop the ultra-modern money earners that can transform their economies.

Jamaican entrepreneurs, construction companies, tourism interests, all have a great opportunity to partner in the development and in the joint ventures that will become available in the process. If this is pursued vigorously, we could even find that the current construction industry could be doing overseas jobs. New hospitals, airports, airlines, hotels, restaurants, maintenance, and logistics are merely a few ideas that come easily to mind.

These are the chances for a win-win negotiation, but we need to build confidence at the third stage in order to be considered for the stage four described briefly in this paper. I recommend proactivity not lethargy, if not we will find ourselves far outside of the ballpark again.