The United Nations children’s organisation has agreed to continue partnering with a leading telecoms firm to strengthen communication links should natural disasters strike in the Eastern Caribbean.
A memorandum of understanding between UNICEF and FLOW signed Thursday is expected to strengthen the two organisations’ five-year-long collaboration to send “life-preserving messages via texts” in the wake of disasters such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and floods, said Jensen Sylvester, FLOW’s Barbados manager. The messages would cover such topics as hygiene, child safety and protection, the prevention of mosquito-borne illnesses, and logistic information on relief efforts.
During the virtual signing ceremony, UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Office, Dr. Aloys Kamuragiye, underscored the importance of the agreement after five years of collaboration.
Speaking from St. Vincent, as the UN agency oversees the relief effort following the La Soufriere volcano’s eruption two weeks ago, Dr. Kamuragiye said: “This current event is a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities faced by the Eastern Caribbean region, not only in terms of global pandemics and other health emergencies but also natural disasters.
“My office is responsible for 12 countries, and at any given time one or more of these may be afflicted with an emergency, as we saw in 2017 when Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck five countries within our remit within the space of a few weeks.”
He continued: “One of the things we learned then, was that while people left their belongings behind after an emergency, they kept their phones close so they could remain in contact with friends and loved ones, and also to find out what was happening during the emergency.
“Communication was the first thing restored, and we saw telecommunications companies as key strategic players, and subsequently we partnered with FLOW to send life-saving messages to children and their families. Good communication is key in any emergency, as it not only saves lives but dispels myths and helps to remove uncertainty.”
FLOW’s Sylvester said: “We started in 2016, but the project really intensified a year later when we experienced the most costly tropical cyclone season ever when Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck, causing some US$299 billion (nearly $600 billion) in damage.
“That year, we also set up the Cable and Wireless Charitable Foundation which in one year raised US$1.2 million to provide emergency supplies to people in the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Puerto Rico.” (DH)