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Opening Remarks Mosina H. Jordan, Mission Director, USAID/Jamaica-Caribbean Regional Program

I am pleased to be here today to welcome you to this important Conference on the Comprehensive Disaster Management Strategy which incorporates risk reduction principles and practices into all segments of the region's development agenda.

This strategy -- although in draft form -- presents a structured roadmap that will guide the region in developing an action plan for Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM). The draft strategy not only addresses the traditional preparedness and response issues, but also focuses on mitigation in facilities and services such as power plants, hospitals and water storage and distribution facilities, as well as physical infrastructure such as roads, housing, and other economic assets. It proposes to institutionalize hazard resistant building codes, standards and practices within the context of national hazard mitigation policies, plans and procedures, and promote activities involving multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary partners from the policy and decision making level to the grassroots community level. It represents a long awaited comprehensive approach to disaster management in the region.

At the close of the 1970s and during the 1980s, the Caribbean suffered severe devastation and development setbacks from major disasters - hurricanes, flooding, and volcanoes. The donor community responded to the region by providing humanitarian assistance and millions of dollars for reconstruction. As a result of these events, USAID/OFDA conducted an assessment in 1991 to determine ways in which USAID could assist the Caribbean to better manage the onslaught of these recurring disasters. That assessment, which engaged several Caribbean national and regional agencies, identified disaster management training and disaster mitigation as priority areas for USAID's intervention.

USAID responded by providing $5 million dollars for the implementation of a Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Program (CDMP), and a considerable amount for the implementation of a regional disaster management training program which was intended to train trainers for the region. The CDMP, which was implemented by the Organization of American States (OAS), explored approaches to mitigation in the Caribbean through the implementation of several pilot projects throughout the region. It facilitated the preparation of building codes for selected pilot countries, initiated national mitigation policy and planning activities in three pilot countries, developed a storm surge model for estimating maximum surge from storm waves, initiated community based mitigation projects in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, engaged the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to use hazard assessments in their project development and appraisal process, prepared multi-hazard maps for the Kingston Metropolitan area, conducted work with the CDB on vulnerability assessments for schools that are used as shelters, and prepared guidelines for retrofitting and design standards for new construction. The project also trained low-income artisans on hurricane resistant construction in the informal housing sector and the list goes on.

Many of these initiatives provided useful tools for disaster mitigation planning in the pilot countries as well as lessons and approaches to be replicated region-wide. The evaluation commended the project for raising the level of awareness in the region for disasters preparedness, and for introducing methodologies for the production of useful mitigation tools and procedures.

The CDMP has ended exactly one year and five months ago. When I last checked, none of the codes that were developed under the project have been officially adopted and mandated in the countries, the use of the hazard maps in the pilot country is not yet institutionalized, the funds provided by the CDB for retrofitting the audited shelters have not been utilized. And, to my knowledge, I am not aware of any electrical facility other than Barbados Light and Power that has strengthened their premises against hurricanes, and I understand that this was done before the CDMP.

In the meantime during the 1990s, hurricanes continue to devastate the Eastern Caribbean. Schools, medical facilities, major infrastructure such as roads, power and water facilities, as well as the region's housing stock are continuously damaged from recurrent hurricanes.

We have responded to the devastation of the hurricanes of the 90s by providing over $10 million US dollars in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for the damage caused by hurricanes Luis, Marilyn, Georges and Lenny.

We have learned that we must include provisions for mitigation in our program assistance if the region is going to achieve sustainable development. We have reengineered our approach to ensure that where necessary, our traditional programs include disaster mitigation measures. We will no longer provide assistance for reconstruction to rebuild infrastructure only for it to be destroyed by the next hurricane. For example, our support for the reconstruction of a destroyed hospital ward in St. Kitts was conditioned on mitigation design and hurricane resistant construction standards. Our reconstruction efforts now also focus on support for mitigation policy and planning, as well as the development of national policies and programs for shelter management.

In addition, USAID/OFDA signed a $3 million US dollar agreement with the Caribbean Development Bank for the development of a Disaster Mitigation Facility for the Caribbean. This facility will help the CDB implement its disaster management policy, seek to integrate the use of hazard information into all aspects of the bank's operations, and provide funds for the replication of successful pilots of the CDMP. We recently provided $400,000 for community preparedness and mitigation initiatives to replicate the successful community preparedness and mitigation initiatives from the Dominican Republic in selected Caribbean countries. And finally, last week my staff attended a workshop sponsored by USAID/OFDA under a USAID grant to UWI Seismic Research Unit which was aimed at increasing the level of awareness of volcanic and seismic hazards in the region. The overall program will provide materials and technical assistance to countries for the design and implementation of national awareness programs on these geologic hazards.

USAID is committed to sustainable development in the region, and we see disaster management as an integral part of that development paradigm. We cannot do this alone. We cannot continue to provide assistance for the production of building codes that will not be adopted and used, or the preparation of policies that are not implemented.

I plan to personally appeal to the policy makers at the highest levels to endorse this strategy, to secure the resources that are required to implement it, and to do their part in making sure that these initiatives take root in their country. The hurricane, floods, earthquakes will not go away. It is part of the geological and atmospheric realities of the Caribbean, and we have to learn to live with them in a manner that reduces loss of life, property, and development momentum.

Implementation of this strategy will lead to the strengthening of CDERA to effectively implement the strategic goals and objectives at the regional level, and build support for Comprehensive Disaster Management at the national level. The challenge to achieving this objective will be to ensure that there are strong and capable institutions equipped with the appropriate tools and resources. The strategy's success is also dependent on strong and lasting partnerships among all stakeholders in the region. Within the countries themselves, its calls for stronger working relationships within and among the private sector, public sector, academic institutions, and community groups. Even within the donor community! Development of this strategy has already demonstrates a strong partnership between USAID, UNDP, and CDERA. I am aware that other donors have participated in previous rounds of this consultative process, and that the participation of the donor group in the regional response mechanism has been strengthened by the leadership of the UNDP's Representative, Anne Forrester.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the UNDP for agreeing to partner with us in this activity, CDERA for moving ahead with the implementation of this strategy, and you, the stakeholders for your participation and input. This is truly a collaborative effort which will bring a consistent growth path for disaster management in the region.

As partners in the business, we look forward to your collective input towards the achievement of the goals and objective of this CDM strategy,

Thank you.

 

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