Mitch, Iris, Michelle. The names are innocuous, but to thousands living in the
region of the Greater Caribbean, they invoke terrible memories of natural
disasters in the past four years that wasted lives, destroyed humble dwellings
and devastated infrastructure.
disasters in the region now follow an implacable annual cycle. And the human and
economic costs are rising, the result of a deadly combination of population
growth, sprawling informal settlements and possibly, the effects of global
shared vulnerability is the main reason why cooperation in disaster prevention
and mitigation forms a pillar in the emerging Zone of Cooperation of the Greater
Caribbean being constructed by the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).
recent ACS meeting in Guatemala attended by 14 countries and five regional and
international agencies took steps to make this cooperation a reality. A key
action area is the strengthening of early warning and emergency response systems
to deal with flooding.
damage is the greatest single source of loss of life and property in the region,
a fact that is reflected in country and location risk evaluations. The poor
suffer the most-those living on hillsides, and beside gullies and rivers and in
low-lying areas with poor drainage.
weakness of Early Warning Systems is a major contributor to excessive and
unnecessary flood damage. Early warning systems involve physical and electronic
facilities, but they do not require a great deal of money or technology. The
basic elements are organisation and information backed by political commitment.
Community participation is vital to success; notably for micro-level risk
mapping and in the preparation and implementation of contingency plans.
Guatemala meeting agreed to develop a system of information exchange and
technical cooperation; a networked Early Warning System for the Greater
Caribbean. Experts will meet in June this year to analyse the project proposal.
the heart of the system is an inventory of human and technical resources,
evaluating strengths and weaknesses, in the existing disaster agencies. The
Costa Rican agency will be asked to support the compiling of the information to
complement the matrix data base.
data base will identify the weaknesses in existing Early Warning systems, so
that strategic interventions can be made.
it will tell us which countries are strong in which areas, so that members can
learn from and help, one another. Cooperation, like charity, begins at home.
mutual learning has already started. Those attending the meeting were inspired
by an impressive demonstration of the Guatemalan system by that country's
national agency, CONRED. Another presentation by the German Cooperation Agency
GTZ showed that the technical aspects of disaster management must work in tandem
with the political aspects at all levels-regional, national, departmental,
municipal and local.
areas better demonstrate the need for cooperation across the Greater Caribbean.
After all, weather systems do not discriminate among countries based on their
language, affiliation or political system. All are equal before its effects.
late Bob Marley put it simply: "When the rain fall, it doh fall on one man
housetop". He was singing of the universality of human liberation. But he
could as well have been referring to the effects of Georges, Mitch, Iris, and
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Norman Girvan is Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States.
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