Attendees at the opening ceremony of the 11th Caribbean conference on Comprehensive Disaster Management.

 

MAHO--The eleventh Caribbean conference on Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) taking place at Sonesto Maho Beach Resort, Casino and Spa opened on Monday and will run until Friday, December 6.

  The theme for this year’s conference is “The Road to Resilience Checkpoint 2019: Safeguarding Our Communities, Livelihoods, and Economies”.

  A joint venture between the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the St. Maarten government, this conference marks the first time an overseas territory and a Caribbean Community CARICOM non-member state has hosted the conference.

  The conference brings the Caribbean’s largest gathering of disaster-risk-management professionals to St. Maarten to address common issues surrounding disaster management, preparedness and response. In total, there are more than 300 attendees representing 18 countries.

  According to government, the conference’s objectives are for attendees to share innovative and practical ideas, and to learn from others’ experiences in the many areas in the disaster management sectors.

  At the conference, there will be in-depth sessions exploring many areas in disaster management, such as monitoring, institutional strengthening, logistics and relief management, reviews of disaster management strategies and operational guidelines, performance monitoring, safeguarding livelihoods, building community resilience, and safeguarding through early warning systems.

  There also will be youth parliamentary debate, cultural presentations, exhibitions, and a film festival.

  “We live in a time of unprecedented natural disasters,” said Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the European Union (EU) to Guyana Fernando Ponz Cantó in his address at the conference’s opening ceremony. He said that in the past 20 years the top 10 countries worst affected by natural disasters have been in the Caribbean.

  “We [the EU – Ed.] are aware of that and we are firmly committed to support, not only reconstruction, but prevention and resilience. Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary … and that can be demonstrated and visualised in how St. Maarten bounced back after 2017, being hit by two hurricanes of category five.

  “From these conferences, we hope that we can grow and be better prepared, not just in advance of the storm, but in direct actions after the storm, in direct recovery and resilience projects.

  “… Plans coming out of these types conferences, and future conferences, working visits, and collaborations, will see improvements in these areas, not just for sweet St. Maarten, but for the entire region and thereby benefit the world,” said Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs in her address.

  “As a region we must take a stronger role, we must have a stronger voice in our risk governance. Far too often, our risk governance is being driven by external actors. The time has come for us to take a leadership role,” said CDEMA Executive Director Ronald Jackson.

  Commenting on the conference’s theme of safeguarding communities, livelihoods, and economies, he said, “Unless we are able to take our people out of poverty, unless we are going to move them out of the vulnerable context that they are in, we are going to see significant impact [in natural disasters].”

  Barbados Home Affairs Minister Edmund Hinkson gave the keynote address at the conference’s opening ceremony. “In discussing the theme … we are challenging ourselves to protect our region from the worst effects of a disaster by radically changing our development model in a way which allows us to bounce forward in the aftermath of hazard events,” he said.

  He also said natural disasters have a greater adverse impact on persons living in small states than those of living in larger ones.

  “Resilience reflects the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate, adapt to, transform and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of essential basic structures and functions through risk management,” said Hinkson.

  He said that after the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the heads of CARICOM states recognised the “illusive nature” of resilience in the development context. These governments then requested CDEMA to further define resilience from a Caribbean perspective, according to Hinkson.

  CDEMA subsequently developed the Caribbean resilience framework, which CARICOM adopted in July 2018. This framework identified five pillars to resilience: protection for the most marginal and vulnerable persons, safeguarding infrastructure, enhancing economic opportunities, operational readiness and recovery, and environmental protection.

  “The resilience pathway provides a means of directing national and international investments towards building the resilience of our Caribbean nations,” said Hinkson.

  According to him, one challenge in building resilience is the macroeconomic realities of Caribbean countries, including high national debts, low productivity and a reliance on a single economic pillar. For many Caribbean countries, this single pillar is tourism, a service sector that depends on supporting infrastructure which is often destroyed in natural disasters.

  “History has shown that we have all been impacted by hazards of significant magnitude over time, and as such, there is a likelihood of recurrence in the future. [As] the commitment extends to us undertaking the necessary the mitigating actions to minimise losses, being proactive in the planning for post-disaster recovery is imperative,” said Hinkson.

  A spoken word and cultural dance presentation concluded the opening ceremony.