Thursday 8th June 2006

The Greater Caribbean this week
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Dealing with disasters

“Our 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.”

—William Shakespeare: All’s Well That Ends Well, Act I, Scene I

If it were ever a secret that most countries in the Greater Caribbean (GC) are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, last year’s 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 remained.

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 effects.

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]







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