Reducing Disaster Risk in the Caribbean – Interview With Local Expert

The Caribbean region – ‘heart of the so-called “hurricane belt’ – is highly prone to recurrent disasters which can have devastating effects. Recently, tropical storm Erika wreaked havoc on the island of Dominica, causing damage estimated at half of the country’s annual gross domestic product.

Ronald Jackson heads the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency – a regional inter-governmental body established in 1991 and supported by the European Commission through several disaster risk reduction (DRR) projects in the Caribbean region.

©European Union/ECHO/Hilaire Avril
©European Union/ECHO/Hilaire Avril

What are the main impacts of disasters in the Caribbean region?

The Caribbean has pretty much all the hazards you can think of: floods, hurricanes, droughts, dry conditions… Our exposure to natural disasters poses significant challenges to our economy, as our entire economic base depends on climate-sensitive goods and services . When any hazard impacts the Caribbean, it presents significant challenges for our development aspirations in the region.

What area and territories does the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency cover?

We cover – so far – 18 countries. It’s an interesting mix of countries, with Spanish and English-speakers, but also countries that speak French, Creole and Dutch.

What are the current priorities in terms of disaster risk reduction for the region?

Our priorities are manifold. We are trying to create an enabling environment for a sustained take-off of all efforts to build resilience. We want to make sure that we do not have a stop-start process of investment in disaster risk reduction. That’s an essential pillar of our work.

We look at the broad issue of knowledge, wanting to go beyond simply building awareness. The population in the region is already aware of the challenges they face. We want to engage the community: use the indigenous knowledge, and blend it with science and research to inform policies. We aim at having the community knowledge influence political discourse, and decision-making around these particular issues.

In addition, in tourism, agriculture and finance we have been blending government resources with grants and loans to build resilient infrastructure, and to deal with social protection issues.

What best practices and lessons learned can you share?

In some of the smaller territories, like the Virgin Islands, there is full understanding by the authorities of the need for sustained efforts in risk management. Institutional support is essential for long-term plans and impact. In the British Virgin Islands a lot of management legislation and policies which are in place were approved at the highest level.

In Jamaica, there have been significant strides in terms of laws and policies. There is a broader national development plan and strategy which integrates climate change and conservation-related risks. Disaster risk reduction is also integrated in the educational sector, through teaching, research and practices in risk management. Our agricultural and tourism sectors are taking the lead in mainstreaming risk analysis into their decision making processes, and hazard information and risk analysis is utilised in the development planning and approval processes.

Our strategy was developed based on elements and good practices from different member states, which we melted into a strategic roadmap for achieving resilience in the Caribbean.

The above interview was done by Hilaire Avril, Regional Information Officer for Latin America and Caribbean, ECHO, or EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and was originally published here.