Our Story, By Us
< Current local time in Suriname – Paramaribo
PARAMARIBO, Suriname–The freak storm that rummaged through Suriname last week has jolted the country’s Government into action. Vice President Robert Ameerali has since announced that some 10 million Surinamese dollars (2.5 million euros) will be allocated annually for the National Coordination Center for Disaster Relief NCCR and for a relief fund that will be established for victims of inclement weather. “It is imperative that we make funds available structurally, so the NCCR can have the relief resources it needs to execute its tasks, permanently,” the Vice President said in the National Assembly. He said that parliament will soon be presented with Government’s new disaster legislation, which includes an annual budget for the NCCR.
The storm hit hard when it blew into Paramaribo last week Tuesday night June 19th; first it rummaged through the villages of Galibi and Albina on the east coast, damaging houses, uprooting trees and smashing boats out in the river. In Paramaribo, wind speeds of 80 kilometers per hour raged for 1.5 hours, toppling trees, blowing off roofs and snapping light poles like twigs.
Suriname lies outside the hurricane belt and storms and hurricanes are unheard of. Climate change is obviously having its effects on the weather, said John Goedschalk, Director of the Climate Compatible Develop (CCDA). “We shouldn’t even question whether this weather is caused by climate change,” he said. “The seas are warming up and the intensity of the wind we’re experiencing is a natural reaction to that phenomenon.”
It was the third or fourth time in a year that unprecedented weather wreaked havoc in the South American country; this storm was the worst by far. Government has allocated 500,000 Surinamese dollars (120,000 euros) for repairs.
The storm served as a wake-up call it seemed, as it immediately prompted parliamentarians to meet urgently on Wednesday June 20th and question Government about structural measures being taken so the country is not surprised by inclement weather again. Parliamentarians called for awareness campaigns and even suggested that thought should be given to eventually moving residential areas southward into the country, away from the sea. The Meteorological Office has predicted more bad weather and the sea levels are obviously rising. “True, but we need structural measures now,” said Vice President Ameerali.
CCDA Director Goedschalk revealed that his agency is in talks with the National Institute for Environment and Development NIMOS to form an interagency taskforce that will look at matters like the country’s building legislation. “We still build houses in the conventional ways, because we never had to take strong winds into consideration. But with the increases we’re experiencing in wind strengths, we should add requirements like better anchorage of roofs to our legislation,” he said.
Colonel Jerry Slijngaard, Director of the National Coordination Center for Disaster Relief said Suriname should learn from the Caribbean about how to deal with these types of calamities. “This storm and other recent attacks by nature are lessons. On the islands people have started building much stronger years ago. They use more steel and stronger roof constructions. Right now in Suriname, too many houses are still built according to a style that dates from a time of carefreeness,” he said. He also called for investing in a Doppler radar for the Meteorological Office, which would help make better predictions of impending weather.
But according to Meteorologist Roel Oelers it was also time the community realized that things have changed. “We did issue warnings that there was bad weather underway, but not many people listened,” he said.
For John Goedschalk, Director of the CCDA, the storm was the writing on the wall, which served to underscore his calls for political will to implement structural climate change adaptation measures.