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By Sophie Hares, UNDRR – Americas and the CaribbeanMenaced by increasingly violent hurricanes, Caribbean countries face an enormous bill to better protect themselves disasters and need to weave a web of financing options to help insulate against shocks, said speakers at a regional conference. Boosting lackluster economic growth, ramping up insurance and disaster funds, and embracing the private sector would help bolster countries which needed to invest more in resilience, said speakers at the Comprehensive Disaster Management Conference (CDM11) in Sint Maarten. "Budgeting for disaster should be a must for us all," said Silveria Jacobs, prime minister of Sint Maarten, which was ravaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017. A common disaster fund and a joint insurance plan to protect the small businesses that drive local economies could help the region, she told the conference, organized by the Caribbean Disasters and Emergency Agency (CDEMA). "Government cannot definitely not go it alone… Business resilience drives the economy which ensures that islands can bounce back even faster," said Jacobs, who urged more investment in resilient infrastructure. With many countries heavily indebted, creating layers of risk financing was key if countries are to limit the economic impact of disasters, which could also include flooding, drought, tsunamis and seismic activity, said speakers. Risk financing layers should include funds shaved from national budgets, paired with fast-paying parametric insurance and access to lines of credit, said Ming Zhang, World Bank regional practice manager for urban and disaster risk management. While new insurance products could help protect livelihoods and the fishing industry in the event of disasters, there was more scope to expand insurance to include households and small businesses, said Zhang in an interview.  "You cannot set up a contingency fund to address a Category 5 hurricane," said Zhang, who estimates disasters cost the Caribbean 1 percent of its gross domestic product each year. "You need a risk financing strategy… each country should look at different layers and different contingencies, insurance and other mechanisms." While countries such as St. Lucia and Grenada were looking to set up disaster funds bolstered by lines of credit, there needs to be more focus on how money was being spent in the region to better prepare for disasters, he said. More advanced recovery planning was needed to make sure emergency shelters and supplies were available, while strengthening homes and infrastructure could help reduce economic impact down the track, he said. "In the midst of borrowing for public investment, governments need to ensure that these funds are certainly being spent to ensure resilience," said Ronald Jackson, CDEMA executive director, said in an interview.  "That's one area that will drive down exposure and be a lower cost to government when these events occur." NO SILVER BULLET Emergency cash payments to small businesses, farmers and the most vulnerable after hurricanes in Barbados and Dominica helped stimulate the local economies and get people back on their feet, said speakers. But countries needed to ensure adequate systems were in place to disperse social protection payments to make sure they reach the right people as quickly as possible, they added. "No single financial instrument is the solution, we have to adopt a risk layering approach," Nicholas Grainger, programme associate at the World Food Programme, told the conference. Given the private sector shells out for up to 85 percent of all investment and absorbs the lion's share of disaster losses, businesses should be closer involved in trying to driving down risk and promoting economic resilience, said speakers. "It's very clear that reducing disaster risk cannot be done by one actor or sector alone," Nahuel Arenas, Deputy Chief of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean, told the conference. "Resilient investment is about integrating risk through business practices and investment decisions." The UNDRR-backed business network, known as The Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies or ARISE, is growing quickly in the Caribbean where companies are increasingly aware that disaster risk reduction (DRR) makes sound business sense, said speakers. Jeffrey Beckles, chief executive of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, said the private sector wanted a greater role in DRR given it was a major employer and driver of growth. It also has a lot to lose. Businesses suffered some 90 percent of the massive losses in the Bahamas caused by Hurricane Dorian in September, he added. "We bring to the table the ability to look further down the road than any single administration," Beckles told the conference. "We bring to the table a much deeper, wider capacity for casting a longer-term strategy for resiliency and prospects for our country's stability," Developing the digital and blue economies, while finding ways to expand the benefits of industries such as tourism could help bolster the region's economy and ultimately make households more resilient, said speakers. "Resilient people build resilient lives, and resilient communities and economies," said Sint Maarten's Jacobs. Related links


By David Owino*ACCRA, 17 December, 2019 - Young Gambian TV reporter and presenter, Jainaba Sonku, is one of a growing number of African journalists engaging in the struggle to reduce disaster risk and disaster losses across the continent. She vowed to use her influential show Youth Dialogue on the country’s private channel QTV,  “to bring the young people of Gambia into the fight for a transition for disaster response to disaster risk reduction” following her participation in a two-day workshop in Accra, Ghana, targeting journalists and representatives from DRR national platforms. Jainaba was one of the journalists and representatives of National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction who benefitted from a two day workshop organised by the Economic Community of West African States – (ECOWAS) Commission and the UN Office For Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) in collaboration with Disaster Risk Reduction Network of Africa Journalists (DIRAJ).  The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the global blueprint for reducing risk and disaster losses, was at the heart of the discussions. Adair Ackley, UNDRR External Relations Officer, noted that “while the primary responsibility falls on governments, the Sendai Framework also recognizes the importance of other stakeholders such as the media. As DRR is everybody’s business” According to the ECOWAS commission, cross-border flooding and droughts remain the most severe hazards in the region. In 2010, during the worst flooding experienced in the region in over 50 years, close to 200 people died. Hundreds of others have died in different flooding events across the region since then, and in 2017, over one thousand people died in Sierra Leone in a massive landslide. ECOWAS has been making efforts to improve its technical capacity to support countries in better understanding of risk and integrating DRR in national development planning but engaging vulnerable communities remains a challenge.  “Public awareness and public education for disaster risk reduction can empower people everywhere to participate in reducing future suffering,” said Mohammed Ibrahim, Head of Humanitarian & DRR Division at ECOWAS commission. Over the two days, journalists and government agency representatives had a chance to work together on tasks that built on their isolated and collective duties.   Ms. Sabiatu Bakarr, research officer in the disaster management department, Office of National Security of Sierra Leone, said: “It is like an open space and we have the freedom to agree and disagree on opinion and issues without the fear of being misquoted or misunderstood. And they (journalists) are giving us an understanding of what they look for in terms of messaging and how government can communicate more clearly, and now we have a clear picture of the news cycle. But they also now appreciate our challenges and how we work and the way in which we structure information flow.” According to Edward Wanyonyi, DIRAJ Chairperson, inspiring and shaping how journalists and representatives of National DRR authorities engage leads to better preparedness and community empowerment. “If after the training, every participant can do something and do so consistently, then we sure will make progress,” he said. Arthur Obayuwana the Communications Officer, ECOWAS Commission, said that ECOWAS is supporting national authorities to have special desks for media engagement to coordinate better flow of information and training. Participants proposed to ECOWAS, UNDRR and DIRAJ to support the formation of an ECOWAS regional network on reporting DRR issues.  There were 29 participants including journalists, editors, and government representative from The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. *David Owino is the Secretary-General of the Disaster Risk Reduction Network of African Journalists- DIRAJ 
By Denis McCleanDHAKA, 16 December 2019 - A new record for evacuations was set in Bangladesh a month ago when the government Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) evacuated 2.1 million people before Cyclone Bulbul made landfall on the Sundarbans coast. The storm highlights why the CPP is planning to expand its geographical coverage and grow from 56,000 volunteers to 200,000 over the next five years as it also prepares to go beyond cyclones to tackle other natural hazards including earthquakes. Cyclone Bulbul resulted in 19 deaths including four persons who left the cyclone shelters before the all-clear was given. Large economic losses are likely to be reported in an on-going post-disaster assessment. The damage was mitigated by the world’s largest mangrove forest in the Sundarbans, an important nature-based defense against tidal surges which the government protects. Ahmadul Haque, the head of CPP, a joint programme with Bangladesh Red Crescent, visited the affected area and recalls meeting one woman who asked him why they had to evacuate when the storm was not so strong. “I had to say to her that if we had not organized the evacuation, instead of 19 people dying, the death toll could have been 19,000,” he said. Some did not leave their homes  because of their experience with Cyclone Fani in May which led to 500,000 people being evacuated but little damage was caused on the Bangladesh coastline.   Some had a lucky escape like Hasina (38) and her 14 year-old son, Shorifur, who were lying on their beds when a tree collapsed on their mud-walled house in the village of Kultali, Munshiganj. “The volunteers said please go to the shelter but I said I would be fine in my house. Next time I will go to the shelter,” said the widow who is being assisted with cash support from local NGO, Sushilan. Mohammed Manirul Islam, Government Deputy Secretary and deputy Sendai Framework focal point, said: “It’s not only about the evacuation but keeping up the reputation and understanding of the system. People sometimes thinks it’s just about the warning signal flags. The role of the volunteers is to fight complacency.” Bangladesh has 5,500 cyclone shelters – including 1,500 multi-purpose centres - and a long tragic history when it comes to cyclones. Officially, the death toll from the November 1970 cyclone was one million. In 1991, 138,000 lost their lives and cyclone Sidr claimed 10,000 or more lives in 2007. Despite rising seas and coastal erosion, mortality has been coming down thanks in great part to the efforts of the CPP volunteers, 26 of whom lost their lives during cyclone operations in 1991 and 2007. The prestige of the programme is such that 82 volunteers were honored by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasan, on this year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction, October 13. Mr. Haque is now responsible for the greatest expansion of one of the world’s most successful early warning systems which is set to become a multi-hazard programme, focused on a range of natural hazards including earthquakes and floods. “We will also have a strong focus on urban risk as we are seeing that there is a great need for that. The volunteers are highly motivated and take pride in their service on behalf of their own communities. It is important that they are active and keep up their skills,” he said. The ambition is to expand from covering 13 coastal and riverine districts to 19 and to grow from 55,000 volunteers to 100,000 volunteers by 2020 and reach 200,000 over the next five years. Their duties include disseminating cyclone warning signals to the community and evacuating those at particular risk including persons living with disabilities, older persons, pregnant women and young children. They are trained to provide community outreach and deepen understanding of disaster risk. They also provide basic first aid and give support to humanitarian assistance. The Cyclone Preparedness Programme is a joint programme of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief of the Government of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. It is supported by UNDP, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the American Red Cross.