Prime Minister Mia Mottley has called for two emergency ships to be stationed in the Caribbean to provide rapid response to countries in the aftermath of a disaster.
She urged the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on Monday to work with the international community to have those ships pre-positioned in the north and the south of the region.
“We need a recovery ship. Islands don’t have the benefit of road networks to deliver quickly and in some instances, [airport] runways will be destroyed in disasters,” Mottley said as she addressed the live-streamed regional launch of the United Nations Early Warnings for All Initiative (EW4ALL) for the Caribbean.
“There are ships that flow and go around the world; some are hospital ships but we need more than a hospital ship because we need a ship to provide fresh water immediately after a disaster,” she added, insisting this was particularly critical to prevent cholera outbreaks.
The Barbadian leader also reiterated the need for small island developing states to be able to access funding at cheaper interest rates, especially in light of the growing debt they have taken on to deal with the impacts of climate change.
“We also need to recognise that having arbitrary numbers for debt sustainability in the context of small islands developing states does not work. We’ve been doing coastal preparation since the 80s. Part of our debt is, in fact, to prevent the worst to our coastal environment. For every dollar of prevention, you save seven dollars in recovery expenditure, we know that. But when you are then told that your debt-to-GDP does not admit of you spending enough money to renew a school infrastructure that is more than 150, 200, 250 years in some instances, how then do you provide the support systems for people to be relocated both pre- and in many instances, post-disaster?
“We do not have the capacity genuinely to withstand serious hurricanes in this region that are Category Three and upwards, and if the international community does not understand that, then they do not understand our circumstances,” Mottley contended.
Underlining the importance of early warning systems, the Prime Minister stressed the need for verification and validation procedures to reduce the spread of fake news before, during and after disasters.
United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed noted that early warning systems can cut damage by as much as 30 per cent and save numerous lives.
“Every person in the Caribbean and small island developing states and the world must be protected by an effective multi-hazard early warning system,” she said, adding that this was “a right that every person on earth should enjoy”.
The UN official noted that with climate change and other disasters expected to increase, an initial investment of US$3.1 billion is required to address gaps across the four key pillars of early warning systems – understanding disaster risk, monitoring and forecasting, communication and preparedness, and response capacity.
Meanwhile, CARICOM Secretary General Dr Carla Barnett said inclusive and streamlined approaches to implementing early warning products are required at all levels so that local communities, youth and all other vulnerable groups may contribute valuable input to the development of systems that guard their own safety.
“Above all, we must continue on a path where early warning is seen by all users as underpinned by principles of authority, credibility and salience,” she said.
Burnett lamented that meteorological services in the region have constantly battled “stubborn disregard for warnings and fake information which undermine credible efforts and engender public displeasure when a disaster does not occur as it was predicted”. “This is detrimental to the goal. We learnt during our most recent global health crisis that rampant misinformation can be so debilitating that it can become its own crisis,” the top CARICOM cautioned.