Concerned about the region’s state of readiness when it comes to hurricanes, one of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies is seeking to establish a physical location in Barbados so it can better assist the Eastern Caribbean.
In fact, Regional Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) Miguel Barreto told Barbados TODAY the interest to establish a location in Barbados was peaked following the mass destruction in several Caribbean territories caused by category five hurricanes Irma and Maria last September.
“We are in conversation with the government of Barbados to open an office in Barbados to provide technical support and capacity building to all the national protection systems in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) through the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA),” Barreto said.
“We have already submitted our request and the government has sent us back a letter saying they are very happy, and we are finalising that negotiation. We are going to work under the UN umbrella,” he said.
WFP is the food assistance branch of the United Nations (UN) and is promoted as the world’s largest humanitarian organisation addressing hunger and promoting food security.
Barreto, who is based in Panama and has responsibility for Latin America and the Caribbean, said the organisation was able to provide valuable assistance to Dominica following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria last September.
He explained that the WFP worked in several basic areas including emergency response, by building capacity in order to respond to emergencies quickly while partnering with other agencies to coordinate the receipt of emergency supplies.
The UN official says the WFP hopes to work closely with each government in the region through the established disaster relief agencies including the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), to respond to emergencies through a transparent process.
Barreto observed that based on the WFP’s experience in the region, there is a need for stronger information management systems and better processes related to how items are managed and distributed when there is an emergency.
He believes Barbados and the rest of the region have some valuable lessons to learn from the Dominica experience.
“We need to strengthen the systems – we need to train all the national staff on how to distribute, how they manage, how to stockpile all the assistance that is coming within an emergency,” he said, adding that the WFP would also provide improved logistics through its well-established Panama base.
“All these need to be done in order to be prepared for the next emergency,” said Barreto, while pointing out that a critical component would also be to educate the population on how to manage their own risk at the household level.
The WFP official believes the region should expect “more intensive” hurricane seasons.
“We need to be prepared for these types of events. That is the point. We need to be prepared in advance to a different type of emergency due to climate change,” he said.
The WFP currently carries out work in several countries across the region, including in Latin America, where it has an extensive poverty reduction programme. The organisation also has people stationed in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
Following the devastation in Dominica last year, the WFP joined forces with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Ministry of Social Services in that country to provide critical assistance to those affected.
Besides helping to organise logistics and distribution as well as a food programme with the help of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the WFP also implemented an Emergency Cash Transfer programme in December, which saw vulnerable groups and families receiving a stipend to purchase basic food items and medical supplies.
“We are also supporting a very transparent process because when you are mobilizing food, sometimes there is a lot of corruption around, there is a lot of looting around, but when you give the money, they go straight from the store and get what they need. So it is a very good approach in order to save lives and keep human dignity,” he noted.
Barreto has one simple message for Barbados and the rest of the region – be prepared.
“Prepare your population. It is very important that it is not just the government that has to know how to react, it is the population who has to know in case of an emergency. That means we have to really engage in successful communication strategies [so people] know what to do in case of an emergency or in case of volcano eruption or in the case of a hurricane,” he cautioned.
“There are issues we have to avoid, for instance, building houses at the edge of the rivers or close to the sea. So those are issues that also help us to prepare for disasters,” added Barreto.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1 and ends November 30. There were a staggering 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and six major hurricanes last year.
While some scientists are predicting more powerful storms, some weather officials are forecasting 12 named storms, five hurricanes, and two major hurricanes this season. (MM)