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Ladies and Gentlemen let me begin by apologising for the absence of The Rt. Honourable Prime Minister who is finalising our country’s budget which is due tomorrow. I am deeply honoured that he has chosen me to represent him.  

The spectrum of disasters affecting the world and our region provide a compelling focus to your work and this meeting.  I will use two recent calamities – the earthquake in Haiti on the 12th of January and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on the 20th of April to illustrate the importance of your work.

 


Haiti’s earthquake affected the poorest country in the western hemisphere at one of its most vulnerable point.  The media of the world, countries of the world, and the generosity of the world came into direct contact with the Government of Haiti and people whose lives had been shattered.  There was no time to plan – to adjust – and coping remains an act of survival for Haiti and her people.

When the Deep Horizon oil spill occurred, the technology of British Petroleum (BP) exposed the regulatory deficiencies, not only of the world, but particularly of America, in coping with this unfolding disaster which will perhaps remain a disaster for decades.  It is sadly ironic that the well which continues to spill untold gallons of oil into fragile ecosystems of The Gulf States and which now threatens The Bahamas was initially drilled to be capped for future use.

These two disasters – one wrought by nature and the other caused by man – provide a forceful reminder that the wider world, while noting your efforts and progress over the past nineteen (19) years, now demands a comprehensive and diverse approach, occasioned by the magnitude and frequency of disasters.

As you transition from a disaster response agency to an emergency management agency focused on comprehensive disaster management in participating states, your role will change dramatically.

The earthquake in Haiti illustrates several key lessons: the need for

  • accurate information;
  • intimate knowledge about local capacity; and
  • the ability to manage the diversity and complexity of human generosity,
  • And to match it with local need.


The unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Louisiana illustrates the vital importance of harnessing volumes of information and developing collaborative response to manage and fund cumulative, long-term impacts.

The recent climate change conference in Copenhagen highlighted the urgent need for broader strategies to be implemented to reduce the threats presented by climate change.  Planning communities and having in place mitigation strategies are essential components for each of us to include in our menu of options.  As the regional disaster management body, you must lead in identifying the necessary expertise so that appropriate monitoring and preparedness strategies are developed to mitigate the adverse impacts of disasters.

As an illustration, The Bahamas is likely to be impacted by the oil spill if it enters the loop current around Key West.  Understanding and modelling the best response to this adversity requires a different set of skills than forecasting the path of a hurricane.  As well, the need for effective forecasting and communications cannot be understated whether it be cell phone notifications, cable streaming, satellites, or some of the increasingly popular social networks, it is vital that eyes in the field are coordinated and encouraged.

As you are aware, the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Facility was established in May 2007.  It has facilitated prompt responses to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike and to Haiti following the disastrous earthquake of January 12th.

It is crucial that you continue to work to ensure that funds received to restore communities to a state of normalcy are use for such purpose; and that the members of the technical advisory committee assist in refining the methods of delivery for future needs.

I take note that your agenda has a Comprehensive Disaster Management Strategy as a priority.  
It is essential that all in the region take ownership of the strategy.  In this regard, I commend the specific goals which focus on institutional growth through:

  • capacity building,
  • knowledge management,
  • sector risk management, and
  • Community resilience.


Certainly, these components will serve as key building blocks to make you continually relevant.
I wish to end by welcoming you to The Bahamas and pray your fruitful and productive deliberations.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, please take time to enjoy the hospitality of our people, the beauty of our land, and assist our Prime Minister in his revenue projections by spending some money!

 

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