Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 2nd 2017 Contents A20 commentary
guardian.co.tt Tuesday, May 2, 2017
DEALING WITH DEATH
"The only two things
for sure in life are
taxes and death"
and taxes are certainly on our
minds now the oil and gas
money is running out.
Unfortunately death is not. Vi-
olence perhaps, but not death. We
fraid death and try to stay away
from it. Yet, fear of death may be
the source of everything distinc-
tively human, from phobias to
Try as you want to keep it away,
death is always near us, always
at the back of our minds, when-
ever our children are sick, when
we drive, watch the news, lime
in the office, go to sleep at night,
everywhere, and especially at the
funerals Trinis love to attend.
It's ironic that we fraid death
but love funerals. It's the social
aspect of course as well as the
opportunity to congratulate our-
selves, "she gone but I here!"
And death is particularly close
to people who live in small is-
lands. Sometimes it seems not a
week goes by without getting a
call saying, "you hear who gone?"
Or "Larry dead! Nah! I just see
him down town. We talk. He was
well. Yes, boy. Just so, he take in.
Dey didn't even have time to say
Yet death from illness is
shrouded in secrecy. The cause
of death is almost always hidden.
Code words are used. He died af-
ter a long and debilitating illness.
Cancer. He just "drop down."
Stroke. They find him dead in the
morning. Heart attack. He was
only 35 and was sickly. HIV.
How people die, the misery, the
pain, the loss of dignity, the poor
end-of-life care, the uncomforta-
bleness of it all is never exposed.
According to last week's Econ-
omist, 56 million or so people die
each year, eight thousand of them
in T&T, a drop, except to those
A century ago, most deaths
occurred at home. Now, a survey
of 45 rich countries by the WHO
shows that fewer than a third are.
As death has been hidden away
in hospitals and nursing homes,
it has become less familiar and
harder to talk about.
Another reason is longer life.
Until the 20th century the average
human lived about as long as a
Over the past four generations,
science and economic growth has
increased the average lifespan
more than over the previous
In 1900 global life expectancy
at birth was about 32 years, little
more than at the dawn of agricul-
ture. It is now 72 years.
In large part, that is a result of
lower infant and child mortality,
paediatricians doing their job: a
century ago about a third of chil-
dren died before their fifth birth-
day. But it is also because adults
Today a 32-year-old Trinbago-
nian can expect to live for another
40 years or so.
Yet an unintended consequence
has been to turn dying into a med-
ical experience. It's should be a
Death mostly comes by stealth.
Only about a fifth of deaths are
sudden, for example a heart at-
tack. Another fifth follow a swift
decline, as with some cancer
patients, who stay fairly active
until their final few weeks. But
three-fifths come after years of
relapse and recovery. They involve
a "slow, progressive deterioration
People in rich countries can
spend eight to ten years seriously
ill at the end of life and it's rising
in poorer countries.
The figures are startling. In 2015
chronic dying accounted for more
than three-quarters of mortality
in China. In 1990 the share was
just a half.
WHO predicts that rates of can-
cer and heart disease in Sub-Sa-
haran Africa will more than dou-
ble by 2030.
As late as 1990 half of deaths
worldwide were caused by chronic
diseases, mostly related to over-
eating ie eating sugar-rich, pro-
cessed junk; in 2015 the share was
Most deaths in rich countries
follow years of uneven deteriora-
tion. Roughly two-thirds happen
in a hospital or nursing home.
They often come after a "crescen-
do of desperate treatment."
Nearly a third of Americans who
die after 65 will have spent time
in an intensive-care unit in their
final three months of life. Almost
a fifth undergo surgery in their
Many deaths are preceded by a
surge of treatment, often point-
A survey of doctors in Japan
found that 90 per cent expected
that patients with tubes inserted
into their windpipes would never
recover. Yet a fifth of patients who
die in the country's hospitals have
An eighth of Americans receive
chemotherapy in their final fort-
night, despite it offering no bene-
fit at such a late stage.
Nearly a third of elderly Ameri-
cans undergo surgery during their
final year; eight per cent do so in
their last week!
Polls find that most people
in good health hope that, when
the time comes, they will die at
home. Few, when asked about
their hopes for their final days,
say that their priority is to live as
long as possible. They want to die
free from pain, at peace, and sur-
rounded by loved ones for whom
they are not a burden.
Yet we continue to avoid having
discussions about death and more
so, about our own death.
Of course, most people feel
dread when they contemplate
their mortality. But honest and
open conversations with the dying
should be as much a part of mod-
ern medicine as prescribing drugs
A better death means a better
life, right until the end.
Dying, to death, is part of our
lives now. Better to decide now
how you want to go, before a hos-
pital, a nursing home or an un-
grateful family decide for you.
Of course, most people feel
dread when they contemplate
their mortality. But honest
and open conversations with
the dying should be as much
a part of modern medicine
as prescribing drugs or
vaccinating. A better death
means a better life, right until
GOOD NEWS ON THE HORIZON
It's been a rough year so far.
Since March 2017, we have
had the closure of two MHTL
methanol plants, the loss of the
BP Angelin platform and the S&P
Continuing in April, Moody's
slapped us down to Junk Bond
status and, finally, a disappointing
The Minister of Finance and
his public servants would have to
recalculate revenue again for 2017
since they won't be getting prop-
erty tax in fiscal 2017 (that is $500
million) and they will fall short
on what was expected from the
FCB APO by approximately $500
The bad news was compounded
by the IMF. In its April 2017 World
Economic Outlook (page 203), the
IMF reported that our economy
contracted by 5.1 per cent in 2016.
They did however forecast 0.3 per
cent growth in 2017 and 3.4 per
cent growth in 2018.
The positive outlook in 2017
and 2018 would be predicated on
new natural gas production that
will come onstream in 2017. There
are also some smaller projects
planned to bring in new gas in
The biggest project remains the
Juniper project which is preparing
to start production in the third
quarter of 2017.
Last year was a bad year for nat-
ural gas supply. Gas production
fell from an average of 3.8 billion
cubic feet per day in 2015 to 3.3
billion cubic feet per day in 2016.
For the last 18 years (ever since
we started exporting LNG) our
economic condition has been
inextricably linked to natural gas
production. The decline in out-
put and the decline in price have
combined to impact negatively on
We need more natural gas to
sustain our economic base at least
until we can diversify our "one
The good news is that BP is cur-
rently drilling the Savannah ex-
ploration well and the Macadamia
exploration well. Both wells are
currently nearing completion (or
Total Depth) and it is very possible
that there will be some good news.
The planning and sub-surface
evaluation for these two explo-
ration wells happened over many
years. The design of an explora-
tion well alone can take as much
as a year. This is preceded by
In the case of Savannah, plan-
ning and subsurface evaluation
started in 2011 and in the case of
Macadamia planning and sub sur-
face evaluation started in 2013.
The game changer, however,
is technology. New technology
applied to mature acreage always
yields results. In November 2011,
BP started Phase 1A of what would
be an historic Ocean Bottom Ca-
ble 3D seismic survey. That survey
ran until 2012.
In March 2013, they started
Phase 1B. It is the Phase 1B of this
seismic survey that led to the re-
assessment of Angelin and that led
to it being moved towards devel-
So, the seeds of what will be-
come the producing Angelin field
in 2019 were sown in 2013. In fact,
what has become Angelin can be
traced back to the 1995 explo-
ration well El Diablo. This gives
you some appreciation for the
time it takes to bring oil and gas to
production. This is not the corn
The 3D OBC seismic survey of
2011 to 2013 has proven to be a
game changer for BP and the Co-
lumbus Basin. It changed the risk
profile of the basin by allowing BP
to see below the layers of shallow
gas. Phase 1A focused on BP's
southern catchment and that led
to the drilling of the Macadamia
I remember Phase 1B well be-
cause I toured the seismic ves-
sel (WesternGeco Blue Fin) in
Chaguaramas before it started its
work. Overall the 3D OBC seismic
of 2011 to 2013 led to Macadamia
and three other exploration op-
portunities. In addition, in a few
days, BP will start production
from the important Parang-Ka-
pok well. This well was the subject
of protest action.
I make this information availa-
ble because there has been a great
deal of misinformation about
what happened during 2011 to
2015 at the Ministry of Energy.
If you set aside the destructive
political noise you will appreciate
that the foundation for all the ac-
tivity in 2015 to 2017 was laid from
2011 to 2014. Such achievements
are not to the credit of any one
person. It is a credit to all the staff
of the Ministry of Energy and the
upstream companies that operate
I am of the opinion that
throughout the entire develop-
ment of the natural gas sector
there has been a lack of appreci-
ation for what it takes to produce
natural gas offshore and deliver
it to market. For years, we grew
accustomed to the upstream com-
panies just supplying whatever
the demand was on land.
That was foolishly called "the
demand-driven model" and it
assumed that if you create the de-
mand, the supply would magically
materialise. That worked up to a
point and then it became unsus-
While we await the formal
announcement from BP of the
outcome of Savannah and Mac-
adamia, we must remember that
BHP will recommence exploration
drilling in our deepwater later this
year. They have already had some
positive news albeit the discovery
of natural gas and not oil. This is
cause for hope. In these hot and
dry days, made worse by the lack
of water in our pipes, we need a
bit of good news.
Kevin Ramnarine is a former Minis-
ter of Energy of Trinidad and Tobago
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