Feature Address By The Honourable Adriel Brathwaite, Attorney General And Minister Of Home Affairs, Of Barbados At The Opening Ceremony Of The Regional Stakeholder Consultation On The Model National Comprehensive Disaster Management Policy

Ms. Elizabeth Riley, Deputy Director, CDEMA; Mr. Harry Hagan, Head of the Department for International Development, Caribbean; Ms. Joan Norville, Programme Officer, Environmental and Sustainable Development Unit, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States; Ladies and Gentlemen;Members of the Media:

I am extremely happy to welcome you to the Regional Stakeholder Consultation on the Model National Comprehensive Disaster Management Policy and of course to the beautiful island of Barbados. Most of you would be aware that we are celebrating our national Crop- Over Festival so I want to encourage you to take the opportunity to enjoy some of the activities associated with this event.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no dispute about the vulnerability of this region to significant hazard impacts, no matter how we measure it. The last twenty-five years provide a history of impact, destruction and dislocation across our communities, as a result of disasters.  The loss of critical social and physical assets associated with impacts such as storms, floods, seismic events, plane crashes, fires, and cholera, have undermined the efforts of governments to promote social and economic growth.

I need not remind you of the regional experience with respect to Tropical Storm Tomas from which some countries are still struggling to recover.  It is therefore incumbent on governments to take steps to protect the infrastructure in which so much money has been invested as well as devise any programmes which will redound to the benefit of its citizens when confronted with the devastation of a hazard. As regional Governments, we must seriously assess the implications of the lessons learnt from these experiences and take whatever actions are deemed necessary, if we are to respond effectively to extreme events.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) must be commended for continuing to demonstrate its commitment to effective disaster management within the region. Cognisant of the fundamental value of partnerships for the advancement of the Comprehensive Disaster Management agenda and its inherent goal of resilience, CDEMA has consistently pursued a policy of collaboration with national, regional and international organisations.

I consider this consultation to be especially timely, given the increase in the intensity and diversity of the hazards, both natural and man-made faced by this region. Several years ago, the major hazard which the region would have encountered would have been a hurricane but this has now changed and it is imperative that we prepare ourselves for any eventuality.

This consultation is also being held at a time when increasing emphasis is being placed on disaster risk reduction at the international level and the promotion of greater self-help efforts within the community.

The lives of several persons in Barbados who were affected by Tropical Storm Tomas have not yet returned to normalcy and in many instances these citizens are still awaiting assistance from the Government to rebuild their homes. This occurrence has brought to the fore the need for us to enforce a strict building code and devise a method so that individuals, especially those in the lower echelons of society, could access insurance and not have to rely on the state for additional support.

The recognition of and a desire to change this history of repeated and increasing disaster related losses has fuelled the region’s drive towards the adoption of a Comprehensive Disaster Management Strategy.  This involves the management of hazards throughout all phases of the disaster management cycle. Including prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and rehabilitation by the public and private sectors as well as civil society and the general population. It is clear therefore that the Comprehensive Disaster Management Strategy recognises that all sectors and people within our societies have a critical role to play in reducing disaster losses.

Special attention must be paid to managing the assets of this region, so as to reduce the magnitude of damage or destruction likely to occur following an impact of any kind.  The Comprehensive Disaster Management Strategy provides the framework for harmonised approaches for addressing threats and related vulnerabilities.  Changing this vulnerability profile must therefore be anchored on concrete national action informed by policy and supported by our partners. It is only through partnerships that we can maximise the impact of our programmes and make a real difference to the lives of the most vulnerable in our countries.

It is within this context that the governments of the region, as important Comprehensive Disaster Management partners, must play critical roles in creating an environment conducive to disaster risk reduction.  This can be achieved by:

(i)    introducing and/or strengthening of the requisite policy and regulatory frameworks;
(ii)    providing the governance arrangements for delivery of Comprehensive Disaster Management processes; and
(iii)    championing the change from a concentration on response and preparedness to adopting a more holistic approach to disaster management.

I am aware that the CDEMA Coordinating Unit, under the Comprehensive Disaster Management Harmonized Implementation Programme, has developed, for consideration, a draft Model National Comprehensive Disaster Management Policy, designed to ensure that there is a long-term framework for reducing disaster risk, which is reinforced by commitment of the political directorate.  
This policy advocates practical measures that countries can take to influence their national development policies and strengthen their programmes. Importantly, it addresses factors which may constrain or limit collaborative action between communities, island leaders, experts and development partners. New institutional approaches, incentives, and instruments to promote risk management of hazards, including climate proofing capital investments are outlined. This consultation will result in the refinement and finalisation of the document which has been developed through a broad-based consultative process. It is worthy of note that CDEMA will, through this programme, also support the CDEMA Participating States in the Adaptation of this model to suit national circumstances.

It will therefore be incumbent upon regional governments to ensure that the policies related to disaster management are formally adopted at the Cabinet level and that the necessary follow through exists to facilitate their implementation.
At this point, permit me to acknowledge the support of the Canadian International Development Agency, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development and the Australian Aid Agency, who continue to work with CDEMA to finalise model national comprehensive disaster management legislation and regulations for participating states.  We in this region are appreciative of your assistance and look forward to strengthening our relationships.

This leads us to the second key role of Government in this initiative, namely, that of providing the requisite governance arrangements for delivering on the Comprehensive Disaster Management mandate.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Caribbean Launch of the Global Assessment Report 2011, at United Nations House here in Barbados. One of the six main findings emerging from that report spoke to the issue of ‘Reforming Risk Governance’. I wish to re-emphasise that disaster management is by nature inter-disciplinary and multi-sectoral. Therefore, it is necessary that the responsibility be assigned not only to disaster management organisations, but also to other critical sectors in public, private and civil society and more emphasis placed on risk reduction instead of the traditional focus on preparedness and response activities. I am happy to note that representatives at this consultation include not only those from national disaster offices but also from line ministries and civil society.

A national Comprehensive Disaster Management Policy has implications for the articulation of policy statements across the spectrum and so, the role of such a policy cannot be over-estimated.  As many of you know, the roles and responsibilities of existing line ministries already encompass these responsibilities. For example, some Ministries of Works and Coastal Zone Units address structural mitigation and maintenance measures. Here in Barbados, the Ministry of Tourism   has integrated disaster risk considerations into its sector planning and in fact, has in place a functioning Tourism Emergency Operations Centre. I am also confident, that in our region the Ministries of Finance and Economic Planning will embrace the leadership role expected for recovery and rehabilitation.

However, in order to ensure the necessary coherence of policy and planning governments in the region are invited to consider where the overall responsibility for disaster risk management lies and whether that is where it should be, for greater efficiency. Whilst the answer to this question may vary from State to State, an underlying principle should be one of placement within a central ministry with a high level of political authority and influence.

This becomes an even more important conversation when one considers the inextricable link between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Prudent management of incoming resources must be a priority since all indications are that there may be a reduction in funding available to the region.

Implementation of appropriate governance arrangements and the creation of enabling environments will ensure positive results at the national level, once the key stakeholders embrace and sell the Comprehensive Disaster Management philosophy.*   There must be support for disaster risk reduction practices at multiple levels, including political, technical, national and community levels, in order to achieve successes.

A key part of this must be a critical examination of our national disaster offices and a strengthening of these entities to support delivery of the Comprehensive Disaster Management Mandate. The initiative being undertaken by the CDEMA Coordinating Unit, under this project, to elaborate model national disaster office structures will be instructive in meeting this objective.

I also wish to charge all of you, as government representatives to personally embrace and champion the disaster reduction strategy when you return to your respective jurisdictions.

In conclusion, the job assigned to you for the day is an important contribution towards attaining sustainable development in our region. I urge you, therefore, to use your respective vast public and private sector experiences and perspectives to help deliver a model national Comprehensive Disaster Management Policy that is both visionary and practical. I am sure we will all look forward to seeing how this model can be adapted to our own circumstances, given the initiatives which we currently have in place.

I thank you.  

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