A leading disaster official has chastised Caribbean governments for not doing all they can in the control of disaster risk management.
Executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Ronald Jackson, though declining to identify which governments, charged they were making “bad development decisions” by not practising sound land use planning, exercising development control, and enforcing policies and/or strategies. Jackson stated that these decisions would result in the continued level of devastation that impacted countries annually.
Speaking to the media this morning at the opening session of the 2014 Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) Programming Consultation at the Hilton Barbados Resort, Jackson called on the policymakers of the respective islands to not just implement such development policies – for example, building codes – but, as was of the utmost importance, enforce them.
“. . . So that the structures that are going up are resilient against the hazards that we know are day to day, year to year things we will face. We live in a very hazard-prone part of the world; we have lived with it for a long time; but to ensure that we do not slip in terms of our economic growth targets, we have to address these issues related to development. There is bad development, and bad development is what is leading to the year-over-year losses that we have been seeing.
“We are destroying our coral reefs, which are natural buffers, from which we gain our livelihoods – whether it be fishing, tourism – and which also protect us against some of these hazardous situations.
“We won’t be able to prevent everything; but we can certainly reduce the level of impact. [And] we can get back to our growth projections much quicker than we have done in the past,” the disaster administrator said.
The goal of this year’s session is to instigate a safer, more resilient and sustainable-CDEMA participating states through comprehensive disaster management. Jackson was steadfast it would not be another talk shop, but rather an intense endorsement of the strategic planning identified in the blueprint set out for the next decade.
Additionally, he revealed that most governments had already indicated their full support for the strategy. So too had CARICOM. What was needed now, however, he said, was for this support to manifest itself, in terms of national level investment, in the form of the national disaster office, policies, approval of new legislation to support disaster reduction, and an overall greater risk management approach.
Jackson added: “I think that is the next stage in indicating the support that Government has planned from signing onto and signing off on this particular strategy. [Agriculture and tourism] are sectors that are central to all our development aspirations, tourism being one of the main sectors, and if we can’t feed ourselves then we are in trouble. So we really have to talk about continuing to fast-track the strategies, policies, practices that are necessary within these sectors to ensure we can make our countries resilient; and we can make these sectors resilient so we can continue to grow and sustain all of our various livelihoods in the Caribbean.”
Speaking to the region’s preparedness for natural disasters, Jackson stated that while Caribbean countries were well versed in dealing with hurricanes, other disasters, such as earthquakes, highlighted our ignorance. Therefore, a major feature in CDEMA’s programming will be to instate a culture similar to that of Japan’s towards natural disasters.
“If you use Japan as a benchmark, in terms of the culture of the people, that’s what we are aspiring to. We are not there yet; we are getting there, and the signs are showing we will get there.
“But . . . the preparedness of the region does not lie simply with CDEMA, or the national disaster management organizations. It goes down to the level
of the individuals in your households, at the community levels. [If] people aren’t treating risk reduction as second nature, in terms of where we build, where we site, how we do things, then we will never be as prepared as we should be,” Jackson warned.