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Early Warning For Natural Disasters

"The Greater Caribbean This Week"  (1)

Norman Girvan>
About ACS>

Georges, 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.

Natural 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 climate change.

This 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).

A 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.

Flood 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.

The 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.

The 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.

At 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.

The data base will identify the weaknesses in existing Early Warning systems, so that strategic interventions can be made.

And 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.

The 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.

Few 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.

The 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 Michelle.

April 15, 2002

Revista INTER-FORUM is affiliated with (ICCAP)

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Professor Norman Girvan is Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States. 

  The views expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS. Feedback can be sent to



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