Editorial: Better safe than sorry

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If you have been part of any socialising since Hurricane Irma, you would have heard a topic being discussed that has many aspects that are worth deliberating. That topic is “preparedness.” People, while expressing their disbelief and thankfulness relating to Antigua’s luck, are talking about what would have happened if Irma had stayed just a bit more south and stomped over the top of Antigua? What if we were like Barbuda or Dominica?
                The answers are varied, as you would expect, but there is a general feeling that no amount of preparedness would have been sufficient if Irma or Maria decided to knock on our doors. After seeing the devastation caused across the region by these powerful storms, people have admitted that their preparation work would not have likely been enough. They may have survived the storms, but what they would have survived with, beyond precious life, is questionable.
This may be another silver lining to the clouds that were hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria because people are talking about preparedness. And they are talking about it beyond the scope of storms. The storms have simply highlighted our vulnerabilities and so the conversations are expanding into the general topic of security and survival. How do we secure ourselves and our future from “shocks” to the nation?
At the top of the list of concerns is the nation’s food and water supplies. Food-wise,  we essentially import nearly everything we consume. It does not take a storm to cut-off or severely restrict the food supply to our bit of paradise. With the heightened tensions between North Korea and America, people are now pondering what would happen if a serious war was to erupt between these two nations. What if it went nuclear? With the majority of imports coming from America, how would we fare if one of our major suppliers became embroiled in a major conflict? We already see an America-first vision from our neighbours to the north, so we know where we will be on the priority list if anything were to go wrong.
It may sound like the stuff you would hear being discussed by ‘doomsday preppers’ waiting for the zombie apocalypse, but it is a conversation that we should be having in light of climate change and increasing global conflict. We have attempted to ascertain from officials how many days of food are on island at any given time, and the response has not been encouraging. From the responses, our food supply is literally days.
The obvious answer is to become more self-sufficient, but that does not address natural disasters.  Sure, we can aim to become food independent, but what happens when Mother Nature decides to trample over our agricultural lands, ripping crops from the earth and washing them away in a flood? Would our only resource be the sea and possibly the surviving livestock?
Then there is the subject of water. We are shifting to an increasing reliance on reverse osmosis plants for our water supply, and these require power; power which may not be available in the aftermath of a devastating storm or during conflict because our power requires petroleum to fuel our generators, and we do not produce petroleum. We import it. 
You can see where this is all going. We are extremely vulnerable to any shocks in our food supply as well as our power supply due to the reliance on imports. 
Recently, we touched on the concept of there being only nine missed meals between mankind and anarchy, and, if you think about it, we are always only a few days away from the first missed meal.  Whether it is a storm, a war or any other shock to our established supply lines, Antigua and Barbuda really needs to assess our survival plan.
Very likely you have never really thought about this. We have lived and survived forever. We have endured droughts and survived. We have seen the likes of Hugo, Luis and Lenny arrive at our shores and survived, so why the alarm?
The reason is simple. We are living in a changing world that is becoming increasingly unstable and unpredictable. The passing storms have given us an opportunity to assess our weaknesses and double our efforts to address them – another silver lining. While the topic is on everyone’s mind, we should seize the opportunity to at least put it on our national agenda. Our survival is not something that we should take lightly or shift to the back burner.

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