Thursday, April 18, 2024

EDITORIAL: Easing the burden of families hit by disaster

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When a rich man becomes poor it is a misfortune; it is not a moral evil. When a poor man becomes destitute, it is a moral evil, teeming with consequences and injurious to society and morality. – Lord Acton

Since the start of the year, the pages of our newspapers have been heavily populated by reports and photographs that speak to the high level of suffering associated with house fires that we all wish we did not have to report on.

According to the records of the Barbados Fire Service, it has had to respond to 71 such fires so far in 2014. While a number of these occurred at unoccupied properties, the vast majority had a profound impact on the lives of the victims. It is a sudden and harsh change of status that can at times cause even the strong of character to crumble.

And while that sense of neighbourliness that represents the Barbadian spirit has been able to ease the burden of many, for those who suffer, the road back can be long and hard. When an entire family escapes an inferno with just the “clothes on their backs”, the pain and anguish strike at just about every aspect of their being.

Seventy-one house fires in a year also put tremendous strain on the system of welfare assistance. The society in general and the victims in particular expect the state to come to their rescue, but if the Welfare Department, the National Housing Corporation or the Ministry of Housing had a couple dozen vacant houses just waiting for such eventualities, they would all suffer the wrath of Barbadians.

After all, between the house fires and the suffering they bring, there are countless other Barbadians in need of assistance with accommodation, for a variety of reasons. Individuals lose their jobs and find themselves unable to pay their rent and face eviction. Family relations fracture and too often young women and their children are left to fend for themselves on the streets. Financial challenges can lead to many of our elderly not being able to undertake repairs to their homes, which then collapse around them.

These scenarios also put pressure on the state to come to the rescue of the affected. After all, a responsible, caring community shouldn’t leave its children and elderly at the mercy of the elements.

So how does the society factor the challenges created by house fires into this equation? This is important because a house fire today does not leave a lot of time for anyone charged with the responsibility of “rescuing” the victims to debate the matter.

Perhaps the answer can be found in the Government and private sector working together to create a register of suitable private homes and apartments that Government can access through a voucher system for periods of about six months at a time.

There is always that unscrupulous individual who will start a fire to secure better lodging, but we are reasonably sure that the dislocation and trauma associated with a house fire are such that not many persons would even countenance such an action.

We owe it to each other as a community to put measures in place to ease the pain of fire victims, especially within the first few hours of the disaster. It cannot just be a state response.

And it just might tug at our sense of compassion if we all were to recognise that such misfortune can strike anyone, anywhere, any time – without warning. “Today for you, tomorrow for me!”

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