Caribbean prepared for natural hazards

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The Fourth session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction took place in Geneva earlier this month. Regional delegations told the session that there would be no disaster resilience without effective decentralization, without empowering communities and without addressing social inequalities and poverty alleviation.

Patrick Maigua of UN Radio, Geneva spoke to Liz Riley, Deputy Executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency management Agency –CDEMA and asked her asked her what kind of disasters does the Caribbean region experience?

Riley: We have a broad diversity f hazards that affects our states. Those include hydro-meteorological hazards like the Tropical storms and hurricanes. We also have drought which affect some of our States. We have seismic hazards including volcanic activity and earthquakes; landslides are a major issue as are floods and the priority of the those particular hazards – it would vary depending on which of the States you are talking about. SO the land-based states such as Suriname and Guyana would have a more prevalent issue that they face. We also have a range to technological and biological hazards. Some affect the region as well. The Caribbean is actually a very important trans-shipment point for sometimes, hazardous materials – we do have oil tankers which pass through the region and there have been incidents which have happened in the past, so there's a broad diversity of hazards which affect us.

Patrick: When it comes to natural disasters, would you say their frequency and intensity have increased over the years?

Riley: I think if you listen to the climate change specialists – for sure they have indicated that the intensity of the systems that we have been facing are definitely on the increase. I think one of the more pertinent things that we have to look at though is really what we call the issue of exposure – and that really talks about development – and as we develop of course, we will build new schools, new hospitals, new homes, housing facilities etc., and because the Caribbean is a region of development, over the last 30 to 50 years, there has been a significant investment in new infrastructure, new businesses etc So within our region, the main indicator that we have as it relates to natural hazards is really related to matters of loss and damage to infrastructure and that type of thing. Not so much the loss of life, unless you look specifically at Haiti.

Patrick: And how would you say the response has been when it comes to disasters in this region? Are governments and the international community responding within acceptable time to the disasters.

Riley: Within the region, we have what we call a comprehensive disaster management approach which is very holistic. Traditionally, there's been a lot of emphasis on the national disaster offices and sort of an expectation that everything is to come from the national offices and that is a message we have very much moved away from in the Caribbean where we are focusing very much on trying to strengthen and empower our sectors – tourism, agriculture, health services education – to really make disaster risk an integral part of how they are planning for the Caribbean. In terms of where we're at, I think there's been something of a mixed bag. Some countries are more advanced than others. On the response side, I think the Caribbean is actually one of the better prepared regions because we are the first region to actually develop an inter-governmental response coordination mechanism. We were able to draw upon the resources from each of our participating states in support of any state that's affected and that's something that was quite unique of the Caribbean for quite a while, and in fact the Caribbean model has been utilised quite a bit in shaping other inter-governmental arrangements around the world.

Patrick: One of the issues that is being discussed at this conference is Resilience: Helping Communities Live through the Disaster and Move on – How is the Caribbean region fearing when it comes to this area?

Riley: Well resilience is very central to the approach that we take in the Caribbean. And in fact, community resilience is one of the pillars upon which our comprehensive disaster management is built. We have been doing significant investment within the last 10 to 15 years on preparation of communities and this, of course, is a big task, because depending on your jurisdiction, there are so many communities that there are to deal with, but we really feel that the strength of the national system is as strong as the strength of the individuals in the population and the strength of the communities, so we've been working quite a bit in terms of helping communities to be much more aware of the hazards that they are actually being impacted by and then also working on planning for those communities – the readiness of those communities – because as you know, sometimes when we do have impacts from those hazards, communities can be cut off for a period of time, particularly in those territories which have very difficult or mountainous terrain or even those which are very huge geographically and we've been really focusing a lot on the community emergency response teams as a CERT programme where we've been doing training so that there's basic first responders capacity at the national level to deal with response issues until the national level resources can support.

Duration: 5’48″

Filed under Caribbean News.
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