By Kadeem Joseph
The Head of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) said there is still work to be done to reduce the impact that natural disasters could have on the twin island nation.
While the threat of earthquakes and tsunamis still loom, hurricanes and other storms have dealt the most devastating blows to the economy over the years.
Speaking on the occasion of International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on Wednesday, NODS Director Philmore Mullin told Observer that although the country has made strides over the years, disaster mitigation efforts still need to be prioritised.
“One of the challenges we face across Antigua and Barbuda is that of termites, so things like termite treatment must become part of our existence,” he added.
The disaster management expert said the owners of older buildings should also explore how they may be retrofitted, be it with straps or other techniques, to make them more resilient.
“The main goal of risk reduction is that when you are impacted, because we can’t stop these hazards impacting us, [infrastructure] must be of such that the impact would be so insignificant that come the day after we clean up and we can almost go back to normal,” Mullin explained. “That is the point that we need to get to.”
He also stressed the importance of new developments such as clinics, police stations and other important structures being constructed correctly, noting that these buildings and the departments that function within them are important facets of disaster response and their absence would further complicate efforts.
“The challenge is … new facilities, their location must be right, the design must be right, the artisans and engineers and so on that do the work must have the adequate knowledge and skill to do it right so that when these hazards impact us, the impact on these facilities will be negligeable,” he added.
In a retrospective take, Mullin said the country has already made major advancements in risk reduction, pointing to changes in the grade of poles that utilities provider, Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) utilises, which has resulted in less poles being broken during storms since the passage of major weather systems like Hurricane Hugo and Luis.
He also highlighted efforts to bury some utility lines as well.
On the domestic level, he said, “if you look at a house that was built in 1975 and one that was built last year, you would notice that the overhang is significantly shorter”, adding that there are also changes from nails to screws to fasten roofing and changes in the size of face boards to make homes more resilient.
This year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction was celebrated under the theme, ‘International cooperation for developing countries to reduce their disaster risk and disaster losses’.