The importance of effective communication and dissemination of information was high on the agenda this morning as disaster management experts came together in Barbados with other key stakeholders to discuss the formulation of a more effective disaster response plan.
This morning’s opening ceremony for three-day Caribbean Early Warning System workshop at the Courtyard by Marriott was addressed by top officials of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA); the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Office for Barbados and Eastern Caribbean; the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO); the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC); as well as the local Department of Emergency Management (DEM).
In her address, Chisa Mikami of the UNDP stressed the importance of early warning systems, as she wondered aloud whether the impact of recent disasters in the Caribbean could have been avoided or significantly reduced had residents been better prepared.
She pointed to weaknesses in the region’s response system relating to effective and timely alerts and called for some soul searching to be done.
“At this critical junction of development, we have to answer some gruelling questions leading to preparedness, specifically to early warning systems. We must take stock and assess our current position before moving forward,” she said.
Mikami advised the workshop participants to conduct an inventory of the early warning mechanisms that exist in the Caribbean and to determine whether they were comprehensive and effective enough.
“Do they cover the necessary four components of early warning systems? Have existing systems been effective? What are the criteria for measuring effectiveness?” she asked.
“This workshop provides an opportunity for the sharing of experiences and for everyone to decide on their next steps.”
The UNDP official also reminded the participants that early warning systems were an essential element in risk reduction, allowing time for preparation and response and reducing loss of life and livelihoods.
“In the Caribbean, small island states are highly vulnerable to the longer-term effect of climate change and the immediate shocks of natural hazards. It’s no secret the Caribbean region [is one] of the most hazard prone regions in the world,” she stressed.
The IFRC’s Kyrstell Santamaria echoed Mikami’s sentiments and reminded those gathered that early warning systems alone would not prevent disaster. She emphasized the need for the public to be kept informed.
“Dissemination and communication of information is key. A people-centred approach is crucial and also take into consideration the social and physical approach of early warning and early action crucial to prevention,” Santamaria said.
Meantime, CDEMA’s Executive Director Ronald Jackson said there need for greater harmonisation of disaster responses in the region, while suggesting that many of the current problems had to do with communication and not the science. In this regard, he highlighted his organization’s 2014 to 2024 work programme, while urging the workshop participants to be courageous enough to recognize the weaknesses in their approaches.
“The lessons from the 2013 Christmas rains [in St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia], Tropical Storm Erika and Kick ‘em Jenny should not be buried in the past but utilized as a call to action in determining how our collective efforts can be coordinated in order to realize the future desired state of people-centred EWS [early warning systems],” Jackson said.
ECHO spokeswoman Virginie Andre said there was need for financial support to be better targeted in the region as she pointed out that the EU had committed over 50 million to the disaster response effort to date.
Acting DEM Director Kerry Hinds said there was need for improved detection and warning of hazards.
She also spoke of the need for sustainability and for countries to safeguard the investments already made in disaster response systems.
Moderator Kaymar Jordan, Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief of Barbados TODAY, emphasized the need for comprehensive communications plans that involve both traditional and non traditional media platforms.
“I urge you to come together and look at what we have in terms of a disaster response plan and strengthen it. Look at how we can best get the information out, how we reach the populace at the earliest possible time and in the most effective way,” she said, while calling on disaster planners to also incorporate modern technology into their response strategy.