Home Safe Home is the slogan for this year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR), and it resonates strongly with the Caribbean people who have just experienced hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
Home Safe Home is also a strong reminder that in 2017 millions of people around the world have been displaced by drought, floods, storms, wildfires and earthquakes. These events often deprive people of the ability to earn a living as well.
Today, thousands in Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Cuba, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are without a roof over their heads, and lack adequate access to water, schools, medical services, or roads. And too many are in mourning for lost loved ones.
Hurricanes not only destroy property and take lives, they leave psychological scars. The howling of the wind, the sound of a roof lifting; these are experiences many never forget.
The 2017 edition of the International Day for Disaster Reduction is about reducing the numbers of people affected by disasters, one of the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction adopted by UN Member States two years ago.
Both this year and last year, all 72,000 people living on Dominica have been affected by disasters. Some have lost their roofs and livelihoods for the second time as a result of Hurricane Maria.
The only way we can reduce the number of people on this island from being disaster affected is to build back better to a standard that can withstand the rainfall, wind intensity and degree of storm surge which we can now expect from tropical storms in the age of climate change.
In Dominica, we aim to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation. We cannot do this alone. We need international cooperation.
We are among those countries which contribute least to climate change but over the last two years we have suffered the consequences of two devastating storms which have left us struggling to stay on the path of sustainable development.
More funding must be made available to vulnerable countries so that they can effectively mitigate the risks associated with such events.
Climate change is a hard reality for all of us here in the Caribbean.
On this International Day for Disaster Reduction, we ask that the world does not turn its back on this problem but starts to address it in a meaningful way through reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in climate action and disaster risk reduction for small island developing states where unique ways of life are in danger of extinction.
For many persons, Friday the 13th is considered to be a day of misfortunes. However, there is more to Friday, October 13, 2017 than just a superstitious belief. In fact, annually October 13, marks the celebration of the International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR).
According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (2016), the IDDR is “a celebration of how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reining-in the risks that they face”.
The 2016 edition of the IDDR marked the launch of the new “Sendai Seven Campaign”, centred on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework. The Sendai Framework for disaster reduction is a non-binding agreement between nation states and the UNISDR on a voluntary basis.
The 15 year agreement from 2016-2030, identifies the State as the primary agent in disaster risk reduction and how responsibility should be shared via the involvement of the private sector and relevant stakeholders. From 2016-2022, a new target for disaster risk reduction will be promoted each year to be achieved by the year 2030. (See Figure 1)
The focus for the IDDR 2017 is target (b) which aims to reduce the number of individuals affected by disasters globally through
measures of prevention and protection. Through the slogan for the 2017 IDDR, Home Safe Home, the UNISDR has emphasized the need for the home to be the primary hub of safety in order to reach the proposed target. That is, the home should be able to prevent the displacement of families and ultimately the loss of lives in the event of a disaster.
This year’s emphasis on Target (b) is indeed timely as we note the devastation to the homes and livelihoods of some of our Caribbean neighbours, after the passage of the Category 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The 2017 campaign targets vulnerable groups including women, children, the elderly and those with disabilities. It also targets families, especially those who reside in low-income communities. The reasons for the focus on these groups are justified.
The statistics provided by the UNISDR (2016) report that in the last twenty (20) years, women and children have recorded the most deaths due to their vulnerability and exposure to natural hazards.
Statistics also indicate that families have been negatively impacted, as four (4) billion individuals have been displaced and left homeless in the last two (2) decades following the impacts of disasters.
If hazards such as earthquakes, tropical cyclones and tsunamis occurred in isolation, life as we know it would be less eventful. In reality however, these hazards often negatively impact populations causing the loss of life or damage to property.
Several examples of the destruction that hazards have caused exist across the globe. From the Indian Ocean Earthquake in 2004 which caused a tsunami that impacted the coasts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Southern India to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 which were responsible for overwhelming infrastructural damage on the islands Barbuda and Dominica.
Despite the fact that Barbados has not experienced any severe hazard impacts in recent years, our island is not immune to the potential risks associated with various natural hazards. In the words of the famous American scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier than it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we’re still at the mercy of nature”.
Whether we are prepared or unprepared, knowledgeable or ignorant, the risks of hazards will always exist. Though we may not be able to predict the occurrence of a hazard with one hundred percent (100%) certainty, the United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) has reinforced that all nations can take action to build resilience to and awareness about potential disasters.