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Cleaning up after Irma

Dickson Igwe. Photo: VINO
By Dickson Igwe

The following story is on the economics of disaster. Hurricane Irma, a monster Hurricane, struck the Virgin Islands on September 6, 2017. Irma was the strongest hurricane to have visited the Caribbean in recorded history. Its impact on the Virgin Islands meant the worst disaster to visit the Virgin Islands since the 1800s. Irma was the Virgin Islands 911.

Cleaning up the debris left by Hurricane Irma is the responsibility of every Virgin Islands resident. And a simple truth is this: there can be no economic stimulus leading to a full social and economic recovery, without first cleaning up and disposing of the territory’s disaster left over’s in the entirety.

In a tourism and financial services oriented economy, a clean and tidy environment is part of the package sold to the traveler and investor. A pristine environment is critical to the social and economic well being of every resident.

Debris from Irma is an individual, community, and national matter, better stated, ‘a big problem.’

Most VI residents who live on hills possess household items that were blown from their homes, down a hill, into a declivity, or into a valley. This is mostly garbage that lies nestled in bush, plants, trees, and foliage. Able residents must pull their debris from off the sides of hills, and restore, or dispose, of what they find.  

On flatlands, and coastal plains, that form a ring around the islands, and that mainly border the surrounding coastlines, beaches, bays, and seas, there are yards, streets, drains, ghuts, ponds, mangrove swamps, and grassy fields, that must be cleaned and rehabilitated, and brought to a pristine condition. Some of these spaces were already an “eyesore” before Irma struck.

And it will be mainly volunteer organisations such as The Red Cross, Rotary International, and Lions International, that a thorough clean up of the disaster debris left by Hurricane Irma may depend. The amount of debris embedded in the Virgin Islands landscape, especially the hillsides, is indeed worrisome.

OK. One of the omissions of the post Irma disaster recovery was not getting debris pulled off all Virgin Islands hills swiftly, urgently, and as a matter of priority. In country’s with resources available, helicopters, and security forces, would have been integral to a disaster clean up after Irma passed.

There is a case for establishing a volunteer disaster corps in the Virgin Islands that could be called to action before, during, and after a national disaster. A disaster corps of hundreds of men and women should march into communities after a natural disaster, and assist in myriad ways. A volunteer disaster corps could also link with critical agencies and receive information and direction of the what, where, when, how, and why in disaster recovery.

Now, post Irma debris, include crushed vehicles, galvanised zinc sheets and roofing, plywood and masonry, windows and doors, furniture, cars and car parts, and every type of household item imaginable.

The failure to clean the hills and difficult to reach areas of the country is not an option. Heavy rains have brought an abundance of green foliage that is covering the debris, especially on the hills. This is deceitful. It is tantamount to sweeping dirt under a rug and saying the home is clean. Another hurricane will turn this debris into lethal missiles with potentially fatal trajectories.

Tourists are also hikers. Imagine climbing a hill on vacation and bumping into a roof or an overturned car. Or worse still, sewage pipes and trash, not necessarily a great experience!

Getting teams of men and women in the various districts up in the hills with cutlasses, pick axes, ropes, and harnesses, removing this unsightly and unsafe debris, is a good way of getting people who may have lost jobs in Irma to work for income. It may take months before all of this debris is cleaned and disposed of. However, it must be cleaned and disposed off, and immediately!

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