United Nations says a moderate earthquake or hurricane would destroy 80% of Barbados schools, homes. St. Lucia would lose only 20%.

What makes you think Barbados would fare better than Haiti did in 2010?

What makes you think Barbados would fare better than Haiti did in 2010? 80% of Bajan houses, schools, hotels and public buildings are expected to collapse during a MODERATE hurricane or earthquake! (Source: UN)

Grenville Phillips II sounds the alarm…

… and offers a low cost retro-fit solution for home-owners and government

The Government has indicated that a significant amount of the planned $2.5B new debt is to be used to build new infrastructure. Before spending any of this money on new infrastructure, let me suggest that the Government meaningfully regulate the construction industry.

Having trained over 500 construction personnel around the Caribbean, I can confirm that much of our infrastructure is indeed substandard.  I have spent the past 15 years providing explicit evidence supporting the accurateness of this claim, and while some countries have heeded and improved, Barbados has gone backwards.

The United Nations recently assessed Barbados’ infrastructure and concluded in its Global Assessment Report (2013) that Barbados is expected to suffer probable maximum losses of over 80% of its gross fixed capital formation (buildings, equipment and infrastructure) if we are impacted by a moderate earthquake, or hurricane.  This is the UN’s worst possible assessment category.  For comparison, the UN predicts that neighbouring St Lucia is only expected to suffer probable maximum losses of 10% to 20%.

When will we wake up and realise that we are doing something terribly wrong? 

Wake up!

If the Government is determined to put money into new construction, then why not also strengthen what already exists?  The cost to strengthen a house is in the order of 3% of the construction cost of the house.  So we either spend around 3% now, or at least 80% later.

We either go through a major earthquake or hurricane with minimal adverse impact, or we experience the misery of a national catastrophe.  The UN has determined that we are currently on the latter path, but if we are serious, we can change in a few months.

Government should allow property owners to:

1/ Pay the new municipal solid waste tax, or

2/ Use the money to strengthen their properties.

Strengthening properties requires both disposable income and knowledge of how to strengthen.  To address the disposable income issue, the Government can consider giving people a choice of either paying the new municipal solid waste tax, or using that money to strengthen their properties.

To address the knowledge deficit, Walbrent College has developed a Home Strengthening Guide (pdf) that provides information to economically strengthen a house against earthquakes and hurricanes.  The Guide can be printed and given to a few contractors to complete for pricing.  It is freely available on Walbrent.com.

It appears that the dire warnings about the dramatic decline in construction standards in Barbados over the past 15 years was not convincing.  Therefore, let me present the likely scenario in a more dramatic way.

  • 80% of our schools are expected to collapse on 80% of our students and teachers.
  • 80% of our public buildings are expected to collapse on 80% of our politicians and public servants.
  • 80% of our hotels are expected to collapse on 80% of our visitors and hotel employees.
  • 80% of our commercial buildings are expected to collapse on 80% of private sector employers and their employees.
  • 80% of our churches are expected to collapse on 80% of congregants and pastors.
  • 80% of our houses are expected to collapse on 80% of Barbadian families.

Are we awake yet? 

Some may consider this to be alarmist.  They should be aware that earthquakes give no warning, and an estimated 316,000 Haitians died unnecessarily under substandard buildings.  This is a necessary alarm.  Wake up!!!

Grenville Phillips II is a chartered structural engineer and President of Walbrent College.


Download the UN Global Assessment Report (2013), pg 110, Figure 7.4


Filed under Barbados, Building Collapse, Consumer Issues, Disaster, Haiti

19 responses to “United Nations says a moderate earthquake or hurricane would destroy 80% of Barbados schools, homes. St. Lucia would lose only 20%.

  1. Homeowner against solid waste tax

    Grenville’s guide is simple to understand and would save thousands of lives if implemented. I love his idea of the government allowing homeowners to pay the solid waste tax or use the money to strengthen their homes.

    Thumbs up on this idea!

  2. Party Animal

    If a mild Hurricane was to hit Barbados we will be devastated, I saw what Janet did in 1955 and that was nothing, only touching the south coast.
    Should a Hurricane past directly over us we will be in big trouble, our biggest worry would be flying galvanize sheets, there are lots of palings which are falling just waiting for a nice wind to blow them down. In Janet some one got killed by a flying sheet.

  3. click

    What an excellent guide. Thanks Grenville. I’m going to do the inspections and strengthen my home. The job appears to be labour intensive but doesn’t involve much cost if you do it yourself.

  4. Wily Coyote

    “80% of our public buildings are expected to collapse on 80% of our politicians and public servants.”

    Will have to access this statement carefully…….. It could be a positive and not negative result !!!

  5. St George's Dragon

    If I am reading the report right the worst case scenario is not 80% of the buildings being destroyed, it is 80% of the “total value of capital investment by the private and public sectors in a given year”. Emphasis on “a given year”.
    On the basis that a building’s life is 40 years (for sake of argument), to stand still, we must be investing 2.5% of the value of all our building stock in any given year.
    An 80% loss rate per year actually means a real 2% destruction rate (2.5% x 80%).

  6. click

    Grenville, can you reply to this comment please?

  7. Hi Click & St George’s Dragon:

    The way that I understood it follows.

    1. Probable maximum losses from a moderate earthquake or hurricane are more than 80% of the value of buildings, equipment and infrastructure created in one year.

    2. Therefore, if a significant amount of the $2.5B in planned new debt is invested in infrastructure in 2014, then at least 80% of that investment is at risk of loss if we are impacted in 2014.

    3. What about the investments made in 2013? Well, at least 80% of that investment is also at risk.

    4. What about the investments made in 2012. It appears that at least 80% of that investment is also at risk.

    5. If an earthquake occurred in 2014, then the 80% of investments made in 2013 and 2012 would still be vulnerable in 2014.

    6. Incontrovertible evidence exists that substandard construction practices go back approximately 20 years. It is likely that substandard construction goes back further.

    7. Therefore, the expected damage in 2014 is 80% of the cumulative investments made in prior years. Therefore, at least 80% of our buildings, equipment and infrastructure are at risk.


  8. St George's Dragon

    Grenville – you are reading it wrong.
    The 80% is of “capital investment …in a year”, not in all years. Its just a statistical / probability measure which does not mean much in the real world.
    An easier measure they use in the report is “annual average loss”, which is the average loss per year. Table 7.1 on page 108 shows this to be 2.33% for ponding (flooding) for Barbados. The first paragraph on page 109 then says that the annual average loss for wind damage (hurricanes) is less than for flooding, so it must be less than 2.33%.
    I was going to say that I agree with your point about strengthening buildings against hurricanes and earthquakes, although you are going to get nowhere wrestling the Municipal Waste tax away from the Government. However, the data appears to show the impact of flooding is predicted to be greater than for hurricanes and earthquakes. It seems counterintuitive, but maybe that’s where we should focus.

  9. Hi SGD:

    1. I agree that the 80% refers to capital invested in one year. I stated as much in my previous response. What you have not addressed is the cumulative effect.

    2. If a major hurricane occurs near the end of 2014, then 80% of the investments made in 2014 are predicted to be lost. However, what happens to the vulnerable capital investments made in 2013? Don’t those get damaged also?

    3. In Grenada, hurricane Ivan damaged or destroyed approximately 86% of all houses in Grenada in 2004. Were the houses that were constructed in 2003 spared? No. The minimum 80% was cumulative.

    4. The average annual losses (AAL) can be a very deceptive measure without knowledge of the impacts of actual hazards. The AAL over 20 years (1993-2012) for hurricanes for Grenada is 9.06% GDP [Germanwatch. Global Climate Risk Index, 2014]. Hurricane Ivan caused a reported loss of 212% GDP in 2004, or an AAL of 9.06% each year spread over 20 years.

    5. The AAL measure does not change the cumulative damage of 86% of damaged or destroyed houses, or the catastrophic 212% GDP losses.

    6. The AAL measure for hurricanes in Barbados over 20 years (1993-2012) is a relatively insignificant 0.12% GDP (compared to Grenada’s 9.06% GDP). Why is the AAL so low for Barbados, especially when compared to Grenada? Because Barbados has not been impacted by a major hurricane in the 20 year period. However, we have been impacted by several flooding events. Please note that flooding is a major component of hurricanes.

    7. If we are impacted by a major hurricane, then the UN predicts approximately twice the magnitude of losses for Barbados as it does for Grenada. That would seem to indicate losses in the order of 400% GDP. (St Lucia suffered losses of 365% GDP from Gilbert in 1988)


  10. robert ross

    Now let me get this right……I don’t pay $230.00 but I do restructure my home or vice versa? Damn clever idea. Why didn’t I think of that?

  11. John

    Where hurricanes are concerned the only thing Barbados has going for it compared with St. Lucia is the lower probability of being hit by a major hurricane.

    Not that we have never been hit by one before (approx 60 year cycle) but hurricanes more often than not miss us or are in the process of formation and relatively weak when they pass us.

    Inevitably, they nail the Leeward and Windward islands.

    I wasn’t born in Janet but have often heard it only affected the south of the island badly.

    My father, a civil engineer, figured that would happen and kept his family up north where they lived. He also observed the relative strengths of the house his family lived in vs the strength of the house his wife’s family were planning to assemble in Christ Church.

    He ignored the pleas of his wife’s family to join them down south and they ignored his reasoning and pleas to join him.

    My mother often told me after the all clear when they emerged and drove south to look for her family in Christ Church they were confronted with devastation.

    Luckily, none of her family were injured and their house still stood but had they simply listened to my father and come up north by him they would have avoided the risk and the harrowing experience of battling to hold doors closed.

    Volcanic eruptions will also occur in the Windward/Leeward chain of islands and while we may not be immune, there is that distance which will mitigate the effects in Barbados.

    One of these days however, our number will get called!!

    Will we be ready?

    We should heed Grenville’s advice and save ourselves unnecessary grief and heartache.

    We do have warnings which give far more information on the weather than at the time of Janet. Will we heed them and act sensibly?

    For instance, if the hurricane targets the North of the island and we know 80% of the buildings up there will be inadequate, will we have the sense to go south where the buildings will be tested less and can be expected to have a lower failure rate?

    …. or vice versa!!

    In Florida, people evacuate yearly and routes are clearly marked so it isn’t unheard of!!

    Not much however we can do with Earthquake warnings hence the need to build sensibly …. and listen to Grenville.

  12. D Oracle.

    mad world u r a cnut.

  13. and you is what ? hoy hoy oh my god another ——————.!

  14. Reblogged this on voicetonemood and commented:
    I would love to read what they said about Trinidad in that report…