Caribbean countries have been urged to employ greater disaster risk reduction mechanisms to increase their resilience to natural disasters.
Minister of Home Affairs, Edmund Hinkson, made this call as he addressed the 11th Comprehensive Disaster Management conference currently under way in St. Maarten, under the theme: The Road to Resilience: Safeguarding our Communities, Livelihoods, and Economies.
“Reducing risk and preparing as thoroughly as is possible for a natural disaster, can be more effective than responding after the disaster strikes,” he said.
He explained that the resilience mechanisms could include establishing risk maps for high risk areas; organizing information campaigns to raise awareness; establishing early warning systems; implementing targeted public infrastructural projects; and enforcing land use and zone rules, building codes and retrofitting requirements to reduce exposure to disaster damage.
However, Mr. Hinkson also called on Caribbean governments to examine the concept of disaster financing before an event.
This he suggested, could be achieved by combining self-insurance, which would involve building fiscal buffers or contingency funds; risk transfer arrangements, such as catastrophe insurance or capital market options, including issuing catastrophe bonds or participating in regional risk-sharing solutions; and contingency financing.
The Minister told delegates that between 1950 and 2016, the Caribbean was hit by 324 natural disasters, during which approximately 250,000 people died, and more than 24 million were affected through injury or loss of homes.
“The economic impact of natural disasters in our region has been huge, exceeding US$22 billion over the period 1950 to 2016 according to the IMF…. Natural disasters have 10 times a greater adverse impact on the people in small states when compared to those of larger states,” he contended.
He added that in the aftermath of the devastating impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the Heads of Government of CARICOM States requested that the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency further define resilience through a CARICOM lens.
As a result, the Caribbean Resilience Framework was adopted by Heads of Government in July 2018, and identifies five resilience pillars. Those are Social Protection for the Marginal and Most Vulnerable; Safeguarding Infrastructure; Enhancing Economic Opportunity; Environmental Protection; and Operational Readiness and Recovery.
“The resilience pathway provides a means of directing national and international investments towards building the resilience of our Caribbean nations,” Mr. Hinkson added.
He stressed that building resilience was not an option for Caribbean countries, which were vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.