remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven: the fated sky
Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull
Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.
Shakespeare: Alls Well That Ends Well, Act I, Scene
If it were ever a secret that most countries in the Greater
Caribbean (GC) are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters,
last years hurricane season as well as non-hurricane-related
flooding in Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Suriname and Venezuela
should serve to belie whatever sense of complacency still
Weather in our region has proven once again that it is an
equal-opportunity destroyer by continuing to visit destruction,
suffering and economic hardship upon all, regardless of size,
race, culture or economy, often impacting two or more countries
either simultaneously or in blindingly quick succession.
It is also well known, if in an anecdotal way, that some countries
in the GC are better prepared and are ready to offer co-operation
which, on its own merits, advocates for the need to support
regional disaster mechanisms.
What is not always so clear, mostly because it is counter-intuitive,
is that said ability to co-operate is not necessarily linked
directly to the geographical extension, GDP or military might
of the prospective co-operating country.
Different stakeholders have different and complementary strengths
and weaknesses and our continuing failure to recognise this
fact has produced the ad-hoc, bilateral system
for dealing with disasters which, by its very nature, is at
best only able to barely cope with post-disaster response,
whilst always leaving the other, more permanent tasks of prevention/mitigation
and recovery for another day that never comes.
It is precisely here where the true value of a regional body
for functional co-operation becomes clear, by providing a
centre wherein the different abilities of members can come
together as a force stronger than the sum of its parts and
become a forum for the free flow and exchange of experiences,
lessons learnt and best practices in the areas of risk reduction
and natural disaster mitigation and recovery in the region.
All with a view to determining intra-regional co-operation
areas in both fields in order to strengthen the national preparedness
capabilities of our members.
In drafting the agreement between member states and associate
members of the Association of Caribbean States for Regional
Co-operation on Natural Disasters, our countries recognised
that humanity in the path of natural phenomena (hurricane,
tornado, storm, tidal wave, flood, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic
eruption, landslide, forest fire, epidemic, epizootics, agricultural
plague and drought, among others) requires regional assistance.
The agreement is predicated on the consensus that actions
must be carried out with the aim of developing a co-operation
system in the GC with the objective of increasing the ability
of members to cope with disasters and mitigate their negative
To this end, ACS parties to the instrument agree to increase
and strengthen regional co-operation, emphasising the importance
of it in the effective management of natural disasters, especially
when oriented towards reducing the vulnerability of the population,
the infrastructure and their economic and social activities.
The ad-hoc approach which is forced upon us by circumstance
in the absence of the above-mentioned scheme ties us to an
over dependence on extra-GC assistance and severely taxes
our regional capabilities when two or more countries are hit.
This reactive tactic of dealing with adversity from atop (or
beneath) the rubble flies in the face of a proactive strategy
to prevent and mitigate, as well as makes recovery efforts
always seem like no more than the mid-point of a vicious circle.
There is help only if we help ourselves.
Luis Carpio is the director of transport and natural disasters
of the Association of Caribbean States. The views expressed
are not necessarily the official views of the ACS. Feedback
can be sent to: [email protected]