Fire blazing at Mavis Bank (courtesy of Jamaica Observer)

(Cartoon courtesy of Jamaica Observer)

As days go by in Jamaica, I have a hard time figuring out if the country is run by, and filled with, incompetents, or if there are people who think that they are doing good things, but which seem to end up with bad results. I’m inclined to think that it’s neither, but a tendency to do what Jamaicans do a lot, which is to be just obstructionist. What that means is that people get more satisfaction from frustrating others (and processes) rather than actually seeing results. It’s a perverse game, but one sees it played out often.

At this time of year, when air is very hot and the atmosphere is full of high pressure, we are at high risk of fire, set deliberately or the result of accidents, or spontaneously by nature. Last year, we saw that with a very bad drought. So far, the water problems have not yet hit badly, but that time is coming.

In the south-east of the island, in the hills outside Kingston, we’ve had a week of bad bush fires, which have wreaked havoc on the landscape of rural eastern St. Andrew parish, but also taken much of the highly valued coffee crop at Mavis Bank, as well as people’s homes. The fires are not easy to handle because of their location and getting fire tenders, or four-wheel drive vehicles, and their water to the areas. Winds have spread the fires and made it difficult to fly helicopters in low to drop water. Away from farming areas, we’ve seen a series of the seasonal bushfires in the hills (such as Jack’s Hill), and sometimes we can see about 5 or 6 fires at one time.

Last night, I saw one closer to home in the hills above Norbrook. I watched it burn in the early evening and filmed it blazing all night. By this morning, it was smouldering. During the day, I read not one report about it. Was that just because it was another ho-hum spring bush fire?

Many of us get the negative effects of such fires, whether it’s a house with ash everywhere, breathing problems, the loss of crops, a burnt out home, or lost lives and livestock. We all look for help.

The process of not putting in place infrastructure to deal with such repeated events is one problem. We seem to take few lessons into the future. Another is how the farmers and homeowners stand exposed for lack of protection, like insurance. They bear the heavy burden alone, or nearly so. But, this is a persistent failing of how Jamaican society has developed.

If we look at many of the things that people now focus on, a common thread is how we have not dealt with obvious problems and a lack of ‘safety net’ in some form.

The lack of learning is complacency and being obstructive at work.

That missing net is many things. It may come in the form of lack of community cohesion. It may also come from the lack of support of the state or voluntary organizations (with the church or religious organizations putting themselves into the gap).

The complacency and obstructiveness are deeply ingrained and will be hard to shift. But, they make simple progress hard to achieve.

The absence of frameworks of support is especially hurtful now, as the economy putters along the long, flat bottom of economic stagnation, with tight budget constraints leaving little space for new support.

A worry I’ve had for a while is whether a point is approaching where so much burden-bearing by individuals push them to a point where they say “Enough!” In the past, political parties have relied on people’s complacency and their obstructiveness–which tends to see them arguing but doing little or fighting each other, rather than fighting for causes. They have also bought off much of the pain individuals and their communities face with a range of political patronage, but those opportunities are much less when budget measures exist that have limited space for ‘pork’. The smell of elections is as much in the air as that of burning bush, but will the scent of sizzling pork be added to it soon?