Trinidad and Tobago Flooding 2018: Observations on Government (Pt 2)

800px-Flag_of_Trinidad_and_Tobago.svgIn Part I related to the 2018 flooding in Trinidad and Tobago, I was very upbeat about how the community was handling things, and here, now, I will be less upbeat – but not as a matter of politics. The government response is a symptom of a lack of preparedness for a disaster at this scale.

When I write of ‘this scale’, too, this is not as large a disaster as we have seen in the past internationally with earthquakes or hurricanes or tsunamis or typhoons or… and yet, the reality is that for anyone affected or responding to any disaster, it’s huge. It’s emotional, it’s frustrating, and well intentioned people want to do more and expect governments to do more.

It’s clear that the government of Trinidad and Tobago is overwhelmed at this time. While many people only heard a part of what the Prime Minister of Grenada commented on the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago’s statement that Trinidad and Tobago was not accepting aid at this time, they did not hear the key to it all: Logistics. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago cannot handle the logistics of disbursing more aid at this time according to Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Rowley.

In essence, a flood of aid might be wasted, and the sane thing to do is to hold off on asking for assistance until what is needed is actually identified. This is common sense, but it’s common sense that leaves people when they are flooded with imagery of homes underwater, of people who have lost all but the love of their brothers and sisters.

In the end, while unpopular, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago was honest about the capacity of government to handle the situation – something which has been neglected for decades. People have been uttering, “God is a Trini” for as long as I can remember, a testament to faith that Trinidad and Tobago alone had some form of relationship with a superior being. God simply doesn’t handle logistics when the… water… hits the fan.

Flash Flood South of Couva
Flash flood on the highway near Couva, Trinidad, 2008

I’m critical of government, apolitically. I have been publicly critical of one Minister flying around in an airplane instead of being at his desk, among others, and I have been critical of the Trinidad and Tobago Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) for years.

It was only a year ago when we had to deal with Tropical Storm Brett and it’s fallout – and I wrote some things in that context a year ago that have apparently not been addressed. Flash flooding is not new in Trinidad and Tobago.

It’s getting worse – scientists agree on climate change though politicians do not; the complexity of climate change is lost on many. Sea levels are rising. We’ve been seeing increased rainfall in parts of the world, droughts in others.

red-house---colourSystems do not change quickly. When I wrote about Brett last year in Trinidad and Tobago, I didn’t expect an immediate change – but I did expect at least a few things to change. The ODPM still has a useless app, it’s still ponderously slow to respond for such a small organization in a small country… it’s a bit like a mouse that lacks agility, slamming into walls with the precision of a meteorite. And it’s a symptom of larger issues that plague Trinidad and Tobago.

So no, the government of Trinidad and Tobago doesn’t get a free pass, but the present government needs to turn decades of lack of exercise of this arm of government to deal with things – as well as other things, which I’ll get to in a later post.

The global economy isn’t waiting for Trinidad and Tobago.

Neither is nature.

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Trinidad and Tobago Flooding 2018: Observations, Pt 1.

Caroni Swamp, TrinidadI’ve been quiet about the flooding, observing and absorbing.

It’s no secret that there has been flooding this year in Trinidad and Tobago, enough so that Trinidad and Tobago asked for the regional catastrophe facility for financial help.

The Trinidad and Tobago community rose to the challenge even while government seemed as overwhelmed as the flooding victims. Emotional postings on social media are ubiquitous – the best of humanity shown by everyone from the individual to the non-profits that were quick to respond, and as the scale of it became more understood, the corporations lent a hand.

It’s all commendable. I just want to quietly point out that the person who rips his own slice of bread to share gives more than than the person who owns the bakery and gives loaves – yet, that half a slice that comes at a higher cost to an individual is not enough on this scale. Everything, regardless of motivation, is useful and it doesn’t matter how much one gives.

I did my part as I could. There was a time not long ago that I would have been out there with a raised 4×4 myself, but I don’t have that anymore and, truth be told, I have regretted that but have found solace in not having to deal with all the little things that come with that. It’s tiring, frustrating and at times heartbreaking work to go out there and see the devastation and the human price to be paid. And, if I’m honest with myself, I loved that sort of thing even with the price it comes with – including the frustration of disaster experience that is not respected. The frustration has waned with age.

Yet I can witness. I can pay attention and try to make sense from nonsense, without the need for deadlines for tomorrow’s newspaper or video stream or the hope that my blog post will be first and therefore most popular with a clickbait headline.

That being said, I’ve been paying attention with a critical eye. I’ve felt like throwing the government under the bus more than once, and with emotional social media posts and heart-tugging headlines it’s very hard to remain objective.

A few have even taken stabs at politics during this time, perhaps because that’s the default setting of some – but the flooding wasn’t politically motivated, and politics isn’t going to solve the real issues for people on the ground. Frankly, if you have time for politics during this time, you’re value to people is dubious.

My misanthropic heart can’t help but be lifted by people doing what they do during and after any disaster, and from this new and strong bonds will be formed that will transcend much that may have helped cause this in the first place – which will be fodder for my next post(s).

 

2018: Tech and Society

Brighter FutureOn the human meta level, it’s pretty clear that robotics and AI will continue making inroads into our societies in ways that we aren’t yet prepared for. Personally, it’s amusing when what got me into software engineering for a living as a young man increasingly becomes a reality 2 decades later. In fact, it’s the only reason I code these days, and coding itself as we know it is in it’s twilight.

While blue collar jobs have always been what has been worried about as far as ‘machines taking jobs’, there is a clear bias to deal with expense. Where technology can make things cheaper, it does, so those with high salaries and jobs that can be automated will be increasingly put on notice. This leaves us with the dilemma of how people will earn a living, a real problem in a world where bureaucracies have demonstrably been slow to react to these changes, where politics around the world has somehow become more palpably connected with fear, where people see things faster, and where our ability to use technology to communicate dwarfs our ability to do so.

Renewable energy has gone beyond being a novelty – even here in Trinidad and Tobago, when over a decade ago my father tried to sell the government on solar powered street lights, the local electricity company – state owned T&TEC – announced in late 2017 that they’ll be doing stuff with it. Technology lags in countries around the world, and 2018 will continue increasing that divide – but a nation’s ability to use technology does not define it’s advancement, as economic policies on a global scale have the developed world in for a redefinition. BRIC is a reality, and network power continues to make them powerhouses.

I think of my nieces in college, my nephews about to start college, and how their education can be made worthwhile by simply being relevant over the next few decades of their lives – but their lives will be redefined by things larger than the education systems that they will be indentured to. We are on the precipice of change that we cannot possibly understand the implications of until we’re on the other side of it.

And 2018 will be increasingly about that.