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BVI Remarks delivered at 8th annual Comprehensive Disaster Management Conference

BVI Remarks delivered at 8th annual Comprehensive Disaster Management Conference

December 10, 2013792Views

The Mauritius Strategy for SIDS explains that, “Small
island developing States are located among the most vulnerable regions in the
world in relation to the intensity and frequency of the natural and
environmental hazards that they face.  The economic, social and
environmental consequences are disproportionately high. SIDS are already experiencing
major adverse effects of climate change – adaptation to climate change and
sea-level rise remains a major priority”.

The task of convincing our stakeholders and
beneficiaries of the need to support a national level programme, geared towards
comprehensive disaster management continues to be a challenge.  This
is even more difficult when we experience an unusually quiet hurricane season,
as we have this year, after launching an intense campaign early in the year
that predicted an above average season! 

But then we can turn to the example of what has taken
place in the Philippines where an unusually intense Category 5 typhoon has
caused the death of thousands, with many more missing, millions displaced, and
over 200 thousand in evacuation centers.   We can also examine
the Lativan supermarket collapse that killed 54 people and plunged the state
into turmoil.  The longest serving premier of Lavtiva recently
accepted political responsibility for the tragedy and tendered his resignation.

It is against this backdrop that we underscore the
importance of all hazards, both natural and man-made, being addressed at all
stages of the disaster management and development cycles. Risk reduction
centered approaches through mitigation, prevention, and sound recovery planning
and implementation should augment the traditional focus on preparedness and
response. Comprehensive Disaster Management (or CDM) doesn’t happen in the
blink of an eye; it requires significant change in our modus operandi and I
dare say it is a journey along an uneven pathway.

To conquer this, we have to be more strategic in our
approach to disaster risk management and continue to develop our leadership
skills and our understanding of how to merge science and sustainable
development practices to achieve resiliency. It is therefore important for us
to ensure that research and scientific institutions are part of the
programme. 

The Virgin Islands’ successes in partnering with our
neighboring universities in Puerto Rico have given us a better understanding of
the hazards our many islands. We have a complicated task of managing a
programme that supports 60 islands, many of which are populated, yet isolated
and which provide a historical handprint of past events and how they have
impacted the fragile environment in which we live. It is important that we use
science and research to plan and forecast.  It is important that we
capture this knowledge and establish national repositories to allow for sharing
and interaction.

I am not blind to the reality that successful
achievement of CDM is retarded by our limited capacities in a number of areas –
financial, human resources, policy planning and regulatory structures. Will
that change in the near future?  I doubt it especially in light of
the ongoing financial crisis that many of our nations have been facing over
recent years. 

We therefore need a sound plan, a road map for how we
are going to overcome these deficiencies to strengthen our capacity to mitigate
and manage disasters.  These plans will help to guide our political
directorates in ensuring that disaster management is a cross cutting theme in
national development plans.  This must be the method of choice if we
are to achieve sustainability and continued economic growth. Our past successes
support this assertion.

Caribbean leaders have long recognised this need –
there is doubt about that!  Since 2001, CDEMA and its Participating States
championed the development of a regional CDM Strategy and it has been supported
by Heads of State represented on the CDEMA Council.

For us in the Virgin Islands we fully embraced the
Caribbean Regional Strategy on CDM and is in fact highly regarded for its
uptake of CDEMA programmes based on this approach.  Our first CDM,
Policy, Strategy and Legislation were all developed back in 2003; some two
years after the regional endorsement of the CDM Strategy.  As I said
before, it doesn’t happen in a blink of the eye…it is a journey.

CDM has at
its core, a reduction of risk to all hazards and in fulfillment of this, the VI
has worked tirelessly to establish a monitoring and evaluation system supported
by good baseline and benchmarked against regional and international disaster
management standards to support the implementation of the Policy, legislation,
and strategy. Collectively, these tools have positioned the Virgin Islands to
have the enabling environment for integrating CDM, an element that is critical
to the success of this approach.

We have noted a mixed bag of success in CDM
integration into key sectors in the VI. Planning, health, and education have
been the biggest success stories:

·                     the integration of mitigation and
climate change adaptation measures into the physical planning process

·                     a thorough assessment tool for
certifying safe and now SMART schools and a health disaster management
programme with a dedicated budget and coordinator within the Ministry of
Health.

CDMis now fully integrated in the Territory’s physical
planning process, manifested through the representation of the Department of
Disaster Management at the level of the Planning Authority, and on national
environmental and infrastructure development committees.

With the ultimate goal of reducing the need for
assistance in the wake of hazard impacts, the VI has succeeded in making hazard
vulnerability assessments part of the whole process and has obtained strong
support from the Honorable Premier who is directly responsible for the areas of
mitigation and recovery. That in itself is a big success and a best practice
for other countries to adapt. It is important that we recognize that this
process was an extension of the work started by CDB which encouraged states to
integrate HVAs into the EIA process.

Other notable success stories for mainstreaming CDM in
the Virgin Islands include the development of a contingency planning template
for the Ministry of Education; promoting disaster awareness and preparedness in
the Territory’s 63 schools and within the school curriculum; development of a
health and safety policy and an assessment tool for the certification of safe
schools, an initiative supported by funding from the Government of Brazil
through the CARICOM/Brazil/FAO Project. 

Some work has taken place within the tourism sector
with the development of a CDM Plan and we are working to integrate CDM
components within a new Tourism Policy, strategy and monitoring framework based
on the model provided by the IDB in this regard.

Looking ahead, I can say that the Virgin Islands is
well poised to embrace the new Regional CDM Strategy. The DDM has recently
completed an evaluation of its 2009-2013 National CDM Strategy and we have also
presented to Cabinet a new strategy for the period 2014-2018with the vision of
providing evidence of a SMART Footprint by the end of the 5-year strategic
period.

The GOAL of this new strategy is “Avoidable loss of
life, livelihoods and property reduced and development gains safeguarded”. We
are building resilience while ensuring that the gains of the past are not lost.
Our new national strategy introduces two concepts: SAFE and GREEN, which were
adopted from the very innovative PAHO SMART Hospital initiative. The SAFE
elements are all actions that contribute to structural, nonstructural and
functional resilience while the GREEN elements are those actions that
contribute to a reduced ecological and carbon footprint.

The SAFE and GREEN elements cut across the entire CDM
cycle and will result in SMART communities if fully applied. A SMART community
uses Sustained Mitigation, Adaptation and Resilient Techniques (or SMART
Techniques) to resist, absorb, accommodate and recover from the effects of a
hazard in a timely and efficient manner.

Our new Strategy aims to further strengthen the VI’s
resilience through disaster preparedness, risk reduction, mitigation and
climate change adaptation and takes the issues of energy and water conservation
into consideration while ensuring that gender environmental sustainability and
ICT is mainstreamed throughout all the processes. This will be achieved by
engaging the private sector and communities in building resilience and
supporting preparedness and mitigation in the VI.

This journey has been supported by many regional
partners including DFID, PAHO UNDP, ACP EU, Government of Italy, CIDA, and
other regional partners who have contributed directly to the achievement of the
regional and national strategy initiatives. Significant support was also
provided by other entities through the CDEMA Coordinating Unit.

We are cognizant that because of the limited resources
in the region, and more so at the national level, we must be in a position to
establish strong linkages with DRR, climate change adaptation and
energy.  These priorities are well aligned within the results
framework of the regional CDM Strategy 2014-2024.

In closing I
would like to reiterate that successful achievement of CDM at the regional
level is hinged on leaders who are supportive of the need for CDM programmes,
effective, national systems being put in place in all of CDEMA’s Participating
States and a continued focus on our mission – serving the beneficiaries in our
communities, our people, our children, our environment, our properties, our
social and economic systems – every component that makes up our communities.
Therefore, I encourage and remind my fellow colleagues to advocate at the
national level for their respective governments to support the development of
national CDM policies, strategies, legislation and regulations, since our
experiences in the VI have shown that this is a critical first step towards
mainstreaming CDM.

Let us ensure that planning and statistical units are
brought on board early to establish benchmarks and support the monitoring and
evaluation process needed to determine achievements.  And remember to
report on what you are doing, tell the world about the good things that we are
doing in the Caribbean, and there are many stores that have not been told!

Thank you to the CDEMA Coordinating Unit for inviting
the VI to participate in this session and to share our experience with others.
We hope the traction made in implementing CDM in the VI serves as inspiration
and motivation for other Participating States, while at the same time,
providing useful best practices and lessons that can help guide the
Coordinating Unit in elaborating pragmatic approaches for CDM delivery in
Participating States but more precisely supporting the NDOs in building
resiliency at the community level. 

I leave you with this call to action – MOVE: Do not be
stagnant. This has been at the core of our CDM journey in the Virgin
Islands.  The process is fluid and will require revisiting some place
you thought you already past and conquered.  When you get there, please
don’t linger longer than needed.

Celebrate the successes and stakeholder engagement of
the past, embrace the learning points and new players in the present whilst
improving, enhancing and moving towards the future.

A future where CDM is fully integrated and we all can
say without hesitation…all hazards, all risks, all phases, all people, all
moving together to deal with the consequence of hazard impacts and climate
change.