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Where ignorance is bliss

EditorialWhere ignorance is bliss

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Belize is breathing a sigh of relief since Friday evening, when it became clear that Hurricane Beryl was no longer a direct threat to Belize, and moreover, would not be having any major impact in terms of tropical storm force winds and torrential rains. Saturday morning saw a brief shower and then some cool westerly winds followed by relatively clear skies and sunshine for most of the day, and then there were heavy thundershowers on Sunday morning. All our preparations were not wasted, however, as the rule remains, better to be safe than sorry. As even the weather experts conceded, although all their technology pointed to a continuing west northwesterly track for Beryl, there was always a five percent chance of a landfall in Belize, which they could not guarantee would not occur. Hattie did a number on us in 1961; and then in 1998, we were braced for the mighty Hurricane Mitch, which abruptly turned around and took a path practically encircling the country of Belize like a necklace, causing devastating damage in Honduras and Guatemala, where it eventually disintegrated over the mountains before the remnants eventually crawled into the Gulf of Mexico. We can certainly live with that type of disappointment, as much as we had been bracing for a real weather ordeal. Some smart alecks might be tempted to say we were just wasting our time with preparations, but they are a miniscule minority. Belizeans have been wizened by our knowledge of history, and the lessons we have learned. There are still some things about nature’s works that surprise and confound the experts.

Belizeans were pretty much ignorant of the oncoming tragedy in 1931, when crowds were in the streets for the Tenth September celebrations parade, in complete bliss with the excitement of the occasion, and totally unaware of the impending weather disaster that was approaching. With the colony of British Honduras not having the benefit of modern storm tracking technology, and international telecommunications still in relative infancy, the information about the dangerous storm in the vicinity was not prompt or precise. That ignorance and that bliss proved to be catastrophic for Belizeans in the mostly Creole population of Belize City, where over 2,000 people reportedly perished, making it the deadliest hurricane in the country’s history. While most hurricanes that hit Belize over the years have made landfall in the late evening or night, the 1931 hurricane that hit on September Tenth began impacting Belize City while the parades were still in full swing in the mid-morning, creating panic among the people with the fast-rising tidal wave and gusting hurricane force winds, that eventually reached near 135 miles per hour.

When Hattie was near our area in 1961, our meteorology department was abreast of the situation, and Belizeans were well informed through the then only radio station, BHBS (British Honduras Broadcasting Network), so that when it made a sudden turn—as Cleveland Berry sang, “then they said it was heading for Cuba, but, like a boomerang, it turned on its course for Belize, my land”— most Belizeans were aware of the impending weather crisis. Nevertheless, www.belizehub.com acknowledges that “Hurricane Hattie was a tropical cyclone that defied its expected forecast.” As the experts readily admit, storm tracking is still not an exact science, with so much taking place in the upper atmosphere and the oceans, that they can’t be one hundred percent accurate in their predictions. Their observations and cautions were absolutely critical, however, and even though Hattie turned out to be much more powerful than the 1931 hurricane, packing 160 mile-per-hour winds (compared to the 135 mph in 1931), and the damage was catastrophic, the loss of life was far less than in 1931, with over 300 Hattie deaths reported.

The 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season has only just begun, albeit with a bang, and while we have been spared the wrath of Beryl, and our prime minister has expressed our sympathies with, and commitment to assist our most affected Caribbean counterparts, Belizeans must be mindful that we have another almost five months to stay alert for hurricanes in this hyperactive climate-change time we are now living in. There are still deniers about the reality of global warming and its impact on our weather, but who feels it knows it, and with all records having just been broken by Hurricane Beryl in June (the earliest category 5 on record), it would be wise for citizens to not become complacent, as some reportedly did in Belize City after a couple uneventful scares before Hattie arrived in 1961. As Amandala of November 1, 2019 reported in “Remembering Hurricane Hattie,” on “Sunday, July 23, 1961, Hurricane Anna, which had threatened the entire B. H. coast, eventually moved south and struck Mango Creek and Placencia with 80 mile an hour winds. There were no human casualties. In early September, just seven weeks before Hattie, Hurricane Carla had moved northwards after threatening Belize. The mood in Belize towards Hattie, because of the two earlier threats, was almost blasé.”

Indeed, this is no time for complacency. Thanks to our weather experts for keeping us informed and aware of the possibilities, however small, when a serious storm is within our “striking distance”. Whatever we didn’t do right this time around, we have an opportunity to get it right the next time around, as there will surely be more storm alerts before the hurricane season is over.

And while we have established that in this new age, ignorance is not the kind of bliss we should want to enjoy, we would like to invest a bit of our editorial space to draw our attention to another even more potentially devastating storm that may be brewing, but which, unlike the natural disasters, we human beings may have the potential of averting. And we are not here referring to the greenhouse gas reduction which big industrialized nations have given lip-service to control, while they recklessly continue to escalate the global climate crisis toward a possible tipping point of “no return”. While we are mostly aware of that, we would like to draw our attention here to another crisis, the threat of possible nuclear Armageddon.

That this threat is real, is evidenced by a signed open letter to “Peacemakers” titled, “Negotiate, don’t escalate,” by Lena Platt of the Schiller Institute in Los Angeles. In the letter, Platt states:

“On June14, 2024, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a road map for negotiations that could lead us away from the trajectory of thermonuclear war, and towards a peaceful settlement to the war between NATO and Russia in which Ukraine is ‘merely’ a proxy. We in the Schiller Institute believe that rather than rejecting this proposal out of hand and escalating the conflict with more money and weapons as the Biden Administration is doing, the sensible response should be to study and discuss it, preparatory to the necessary dialogue to urgently achieve peace. President John F. Kennedy’s statesmanship during the 1962 Cuban Missiles Crisis should be the model we emulate.”

Ms. Platt wraps up her letter by imploring all to view “a petition to achieve this result,” and further states, “I am kindly asking that you review it and add your name and support to this initiative. It is of the utmost urgency that we get the USA to change course in the conduct of this war before it is too late.”

We cannot change the course of a hurricane; we just have to be prepared to minimize the impact. Minimizing the impact of nuclear engagement is not an option, however; changing course before it happens is our only chance.  

(The petition, “PETITION: International Peace Coalition — Declaration of Independence from Imminent Nuclear War: Begin Negotiations for Peace Now” is printed elsewhere in this newspaper.)

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