Opening Remarks by Elizabeth Riley, CDEMA Deputy Executive Director (Ag) at Workshop on Gender, Vulnerable Populations and Disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean

Madam Chair, Distinguished members of the Head Table, Country Delegates, Representatives of National and Regional Organizations, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning.

It is a pleasure to be here in Trinidad and Tobago and an even greater pleasure to deliver brief remarks on behalf of Mr. Jeremy Collymore, the Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency at this opening ceremony of the Workshop on Gender, Vulnerable populations and Disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean – An Initiative to prepare for the IV International Congress on Gender and Disasters 2011.

Allow me to extend our thanks to the International Organization for Migration and the Risk Management Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior and Justice and the Mayor’s office of Medellin in Columbia for inviting CDEMA to participate in this workshop and to deliver brief remarks at this opening ceremony.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are well aware that the Caribbean is one of the most hazard prone regions in the world. The plethora of traditional hazards which we face – natural and man-made, including floods, drought, hurricanes and other tropical systems, landslides, earthquakes, fires – and the list goes on - has been further compounded by trans-boundary threats. The latter, inclusive of climate change and its potential implications, have necessitated a rethink of the way we do business as sectors, as sovereign states and as a region. With respect to the climate change discussion, CDEMA’s position is that disaster risk management must be viewed as the launching pad for engaging our sector partners in dialogue on the consequences of climate change and for undertaking associated adaptation actions. Of course, more detailed discussion on the disaster risk management and climate change interface should be the focus of another forum.

We are also familiar with the statistics of loss in a region where the indicator of vulnerability has not been that of mortality, as it is in much of the developing world, but that of economic losses. Loss valuations of 212% of GDP as in the case of Hurricane Ivan in Grenada 2004, 60% GDP losses due to floods in Guyana in 2005; and the estimated value of between US$700Million and 3.3 Billion dollars in direct and indirect costs from extreme weather events alone (IDB) over the last three decades are regrettably no stranger to us. Most recently, hurricane Richard affected Belize last Sunday causing estimated damage to the agricultural sector of over 30M.

A focus on the economic statistics however masks the multi-dimensional nature of hazard impacts and specifically the social dimensions of our vulnerability profiles. The fact is that disasters affect populations differently and those who are most vulnerable tend to suffer the greatest. This vulnerability is informed by inter alia poverty and the social characteristics of certain groups including consideration of gender dimensions. What is also true is that particular social groups display attributes in fostering a culture of resilience which has often been overlooked or not adequately recognized.

As guided by the ISDR, mainstreaming gender into disaster risk management practice speaks to the basic premis that the roles and relationships of women and men in disaster risk management should be analyzed within the overall socio-economic and cultural context. To do this, it is imperative that we gain an evidence based understanding of the gender dimension of disaster risk if we are to craft informed policies and programmes. In this regard, I wish to acknowledge the work of the partners in the Caribbean who consistently research and produce the type of analysis to inform decision making. These include, UNECLAC; the University of the West Indies and UNIFEM who have worked in carrying out a range of post disaster Gender Impact Analyses in this region. The results of these studies has shaped not only our understanding of the differential impacts of hazards on groups but also has the potential to inform the articulation of policy direction related to inter alia relief and recovery efforts. It is also critical that a common understanding of gender dimensions in the Caribbean is shared beyond our immediate constituency.

As a cross cutting development issue, effective consideration of gender requires a holistic multi-stakeholder approach. In this regard, we at the CDEMA Coordinating Unit regard the Comprehensive Disaster Management Strategy (CDM) as the appropriate space for moving forward this discussion. The strategy has been broadly embraced at the national level within the CDEMA Participating States and at the regional level through adoption at the level of the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development - COTED. CDM challenges us to give consideration to all hazards, empower all sectors and build a culture of safety. The strategy identifies four priority outcome areas related to institutional strengthening, knowledge management, mainstreaming at the sector level and community resilience. CDM also specifically identifies a number of critical cross cutting themes, one of which is gender.

CDM and its associated governance mechanism, the Coordination and Harmonization Council, which embraces the concept of sector led disaster risk management mainstreaming is pioneering and offers a structure within which these complex interactions can take place. The CDEMA Coordinating Unit would therefore invite the meeting to give consideration to how this established mechanism may support moving this agenda forward.

Over the next three days we will have the unique opportunity to share experiences in the area of gender and disaster management as we prepare a regional position for the 4th International Congress on Gender and Disasters. In articulating this position, we must be mindful of the body of work which pre-dates us including the regional Plan of Action on mainstreaming gender and disaster risk management and studies on post-disaster gender assessment and utilize these guiding instruments accordingly.

Let me close by inviting you to join me in expressing our deepest appreciation to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for its hosting and logistical support for this Conference and to USAID/OFDA for its support. The CDEMA CU pledges its continued commitment to working side-by-side our partners in the roll out of the gender mainstreaming efforts. We are confident that the outcomes of this workshop will be successful. I thank you.