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close this bookIDNDR - Informs - Number 08, 1995 (IDNDR)
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THE DECADE'S SECOND HALF: THE CHALLENGE FOR OUR REGION

* Barbara E. Carby, University of the West Indies Mona Jamaica Member of the IDNDR Scientific and Technical Committee.

*Dra. Barbara E. Carby, Of Office of the Principle, The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Mona Kingston 7, Jamaica. Tel. (1809) 92716619

As we look towards the end of the Decade and into the Twenty-first Century, those of us who work in the field of disaster reduction in whatever capacity, must face the reality that despite the declaration of an international decade by the United Nations disaster mitigation is no more «sexy» now than it was in 1990.

In the Caribbean preparedness is at a reasonable good level, and the Governments have indicated their willingness to support this by continued commitment to CDERA (Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Responde Agency). We have however failed singularly in our efforts to convince the Region's governments and population that mitigation and vulnerability reduction are equally important. Were we to do this, resources would be forthcoming. The second half of the Decade presents the opportunity for us to make an all-out effort to have mitigation accepted in the Region on a wide scale. This would build the perfect launching platform for a change in approach to disaster reduction as we go into the next century. I will discuss briefly here some of the areas in which work still needs to be done.

APPLYING SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE TO HAZARD REDUCTION

Our ability to reduce the vulnerability of our population and our system depends on our knowledge of the hazards faced. Various degrees of hazard mapping have been done in the Caribbean, but even in those cases where hazard maps exist the information they contain is not factored into development planning or disaster planning. So we continue to approve developments in areas prone to slope movement, we continue to allow squatter settlements in marginal lands, and we do not seriously and consistently enforce our building codes. This lack of appreciation of scientific data also leads to under-funding of those agencies responsible for research into, and monitoring of hazards. This often results in poor or none-existent data bases for accurate evaluation of hazards and for forecasting For example, our earthquake forecasting remains in a primitive state despite the fact that most of the Caribbean islands face an earthquake threat from either tectonic or volcanic sources. Hazard mapping for floods and landslides, two of the most frequently occurring hazards in the Caribbean, has still not been undertaken on the comprehensive scale required.

HORIZONTAL TECHNICAL COOPERATION

We must foster greater horizontal cooperation among countries of the Caribbean and Latin America despite what is perceived by many as the language barrier. Many Latin American countries possess excellent mitigation programmes which could be adapted to the Caribbean, and some Caribbean countries have good risk mapping programmes which could be implemented in other islands.

INCREASED UNAVAILABILITY OF REINSURANCE

As a region we must decide how we will tackle the problem of increasing insurance premiums and decreasing ability of individuals to insure private property. Without the insurance cushion, more public funding will have to be diverted to disaster assistance for victims. Often the country's capital stock is not insured by governments. This means that if a major disaster occurs the country will be set back by years perhaps even decades, as money earmarked for development type projects is funneled into reconstruction of the public and private sectors. As it becomes more difficult to obtain insurance, it becomes more important enforce adequate building codes and to incorporate mitigation measures at the planning stage.

CONTINUING EXPANSION OF URBAN CENTRES

Our urban centres continue to grow. Although the Caribbean does not yet have megacities our expanding urban centres present similar problems. Limited land area, complex and fragile ecosystems, inadequate waste disposal systems, occupation of marginal hazard-prone land all present problems which increase vulnerability. Arguments have been advanced that it is rate of growth that is important, not the absolute size of cities. However, in situations where systems cannot cope with present population levels ANY rate of grow this problematic. Recycling of waste to reduce land fills, conservation of fresh water and maintenance of public health systems are all important to vulnerability reduction for our populations.

ROLE OF GOVERNMENTS

Present trends are that increasing amounts of money have to be spent by international agencies on humanitarian relief because of conflicts and wars, leaving less money for mitigation of natural or technological hazards. If this trend continues, Governments will have to take responsibility for disaster mitigation, and for ensuring its integration into national development. Aspects such as policy and legislative frameworks, proper structuring of national institutions to facilitate inter-sectoral collaboration, and community involvement in planning must be consistently undertaken by Governments. It is the Governments' responsibility to develop and promote a culture of vulnerability reduction and mitigation in our countries.

Our Region has the necessary human resources and skills to move from the short term preparedness and response phase of disaster management to the longer term vulnerability reduction/mitigation phase. The challenge we face now is to garner the necessary political and popular will to make the change. Ultimately the success of the Decade will be measured not by the level of funding available for large capital intensive programmes, but by our success in making this conceptual change.