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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, 13 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 to grow from 55,000 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. Large economic losses are likely to be reported in an on-going post-disaster assessment. The damage was mitigated by the preservation of the world’s largest mangrove forest in the Sundarbans, an important nature-based defense against tidal surges. 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. Bangladesh has 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 80 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.
By Denis McCleanDECEMBER 12, 2019 - The 900,000 Rohingya who have fled the pogroms launched against them in Myanmar now live in 34 densely populated camps at risk of floods, landslides and cyclones in neighbouring Bangladesh. Elephant watchtowers also dot the camps which lie in the middle of a major breeding ground for Asian elephants. Two years after the main influx, major efforts are underway to reduce the impact that the presence of such dense settlements are having on the environment and the raised levels of exposure to floods and landslides. The arrival of 700,000 Rohingya from August 2017 exacerbated existing environmental trends which saw dramatic reductions in the Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary and the Inani National Park since the ‘90s. FAO is working with the University College of London to develop a landslide early warning system based on risk modelling using inputs from satellite imagery, rainfall levels and other meteorological data. They have already succeeded in reducing the number of landslides by an intensive programme of slope stabilization, planting a suitable variety of trees, shrubs and deep-rooted long grass following a mixed vegetation approach. Work which is also being replicated by other UN agencies and NGO partners. Rajib Mahamud, FAO senior forestry specialist, explains that this is also vital to efforts to restore groundwater levels which have been severely depleted. “In total under FAO’s Safe Plus programme we have a target of restoring and reforesting 2,500 hectares including 500 hectares inside the camps which were once all forest and home to the Asian elephant. To date we have already covered more than 300 hectares inside the camps and this year we have completed 570 hectares outside the camp. “Our main focus is on the watershed management primarily outside the camp over the next five years. Working with the Japanese Government we have restored 100 hectares along the Reju canal water system. We have planted 25,000 bamboo seedlings along the banks. Bamboo is good for reducing stream bank erosion. “We have also targeted one agricultural community who are mostly dependent on groundwater for cultivation encouraging them to use the surface water as much as possible.” WFP and FAO have also combined to encourage host communities to grow crops which can be bought through a voucher system inside the camps. This provides income to the host communities who have also suffered from the environmental losses of recent years. The rate of deforestation has also been greatly reduced by combined efforts of UN agencies and NGO partners to substitute wood for fuel, liquified petroleum gas, LPG. UNHCR and BRAC are also working together to improve the quality of life in places like Camp 1W Block D in Cox’s Bazar, by improving the infrastructure including drainage and introducing concrete pathways which will not be washed away in the rainy season. Retaining walls are being put in place which will ensure slope stability and minimize flood damage in the fragile family homes made of tarpaulins, bamboo and any materials available to weigh down the roof to avoid wind damage. UNHCR’s focal point for disaster risk reduction, Marina Drazba highlights the importance of these small-scale initiatives to improve the quality of daily life for vulnerable groups including older persons and persons living with disabilities, while supporting an “integrated neighbourhood approach” to disaster risk management. The importance of these works is clear from the fact that 42,000 people were affected in the camps by landslides and flooding during last year’s monsoon season from June to September. The fear is that the outcome could be much worse if the area is hit by one of the major cyclones which the Bay of Bengal is famous for.
By Omar H AmachBANGKOK, 12 December 2019 - In many crisis settings, emergency response has been seen to be in a holding pattern, responding year on-year to the same needs without promoting lasting positive change in people’s lives. Yet humanitarian needs are expected to grow in the coming years as climate change is causing an increase in the intensity and frequency of climate-related hazards. According to a recent report by Oxfam, climate-fuelled disasters were the number one driver of internal displacement over the last decade. Eighty percent of those displaced live in Asia, which has many cities and megacities in low-lying coastal areas. Just in the last year, 3.5 million people in Bangladesh and India were displaced by Cyclone Fani and 3.8 million were displaced by extreme weather in China. In light of this, there is a clear need for increased collaboration between humanitarian actors and disaster risk reduction specialists to address underlying vulnerabilities and lay the foundation for sustainable development. Disaster risk reduction straddles both development and humanitarian action. “If we don’t do better disaster risk management, we will have to invest a lot more in response, recovery and reconstruction,” said Ms Indu Ghimire, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Nepal. This need was the rationale for a multi-phase initiative launched by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) to provide direction and identify entry points for enhanced integration of DRR into humanitarian programming in both recurrent and protracted crisis settings. “UNDRR has brought this discussion at the right time; it is important that we reduce humanitarian crises with some integrated action so that people can cope, build their resilience and live peacefully with the required development prospect for themselves and the next generation to come,” said Mr Mohammad Qaseem Haidari, Deputy Minister of the Ministry for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan. To scale up regional experiences to the global level, UNDRR’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific organized today a regional consultative workshop that brought together 46 representatives from government, the UN system, humanitarian agencies, development partners, and non-governmental organizations. Mr Animesh Kumar, Deputy Chief of the UNDRR Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific outlined the rationale of the workshop: “By definition, humanitarian action and response should be of limited duration. However, recurrent and protracted disasters have resulted in a substantial increase in the average length of humanitarian crises, often making humanitarian action the ‘new normal’. Disaster risk reduction offers a suite of tools, approaches and actions that helps strengthen the humanitarian programme cycle while reducing the humanitarian burden.” The workshop included a review of case studies from protracted crises settings as in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and recurrent crises such as in Indonesia and the Philippines. Participants identified specific opportunities and recommendations for better integrating DRR into the various elements of the humanitarian programme cycle: preparedness, assessment and analysis, planning, financing, and coordination. “DRR in this disaster-prone region turns out to be a classic nexus issue: it’s a pressing problem that requires a combination of development, humanitarian, and sometimes peace-building action to solve,” said Mr Robert Smith, Chief of Humanitarian-Development Collaboration Section at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). These recommendations will be validated and refined through a global workshop to be organized by UNDRR in Geneva in February 2020. The final recommendations on integrating DRR into humanitarian and development programming will be shared with the UN system, humanitarian agencies and development partners to inform ongoing and future plans. Results will also be shared at the 2020 Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, being convened by UNDRR and hosted by the Government of Australia.  
By Omar H AmachBANGKOK, 11 December 2019 - With strong support from the ARISE networks in Japan, India and the Philippines, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction organized a consultative workshop to identify pathways to help build the business resilience of micro, small and medium enterprises in Asia-Pacific. Small businesses represent the bulk of the private sector in all countries, employ large portions of the population and are instrumental to the social and economic fabrics of their communities. According to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), micro, small and medium enterprises account for up to 99% of business establishments in their ten member states, contributing more than 50% of ASEAN’s GDP and employing more than 80% of the workforce. Yet despite their significance, little data exists on the small businesses in most countries, and on the disaster impact on small businesses, perceptions of business owners of their risk environment, and their utilization of available tools. Moreover, the informal nature of many of these enterprises makes them invisible when it comes to disaster resilience and risk reduction considerations. As the region faces a new trend of high-frequency and high-impact disasters due to drivers of risk such as urbanization and climate change, these small businesses are vulnerable to disruptions, and even closure, as a result of disasters. This also puts at risk the livelihoods of the people who are employed by them and the communities that benefit from their services. While there has been progress in the region in promoting business continuity plans to improve preparedness, these plans do not address the drivers of risks, and have limited role in enabling such businesses take risk-informed decisions. “Resilience building should go beyond minimizing disruptions. It should help businesses not only survive a disaster but thrive and prosper,” explained Mr Animesh Kumar, Deputy Chief of UNDRR Asia-Pacific, who set the scene for the consultation. Around 25 participants from the private sector, development agencies, and technical experts shared their insights and case studies. A lack of access or utilization of financial instruments, including insurance, was cited as a problem in many countries, including developed countries. Another common theme was the need to help small businesses become more active in building their own resilience. Recommendations included increasing their awareness of their vulnerability, connecting them with other small enterprises based on geography or sector, and offering them advice that is simple and actionable. Participants also recommended to develop resilience standards and benchmarks for small businesses and use them to incentive their owners to invest in resilience building. UNDRR announced the launch of a global survey on small and medium enterprises that will result in a publication in 2020. The recommendations articulated in the consultation will help shape the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which will be convened by UNDRR in 2020 and hosted by the Government of Australia. Increasing investment in resilience is a key pillar of the conference which will result in a political declaration and action plan.  
DHAKA, 10 December, 2019 - There are probably few slum dwellers from Bangladesh at COP25 -the annual climate conference - in Madrid but women in one of Dhaka’s teeming slums spoke today of the upheaval that the impact of extreme weather and the climate emergency is having on their lives. All ten women meeting in a tiny corrugated shed in Mollah, in the Mirpur neighbourhood of Bangladesh, had a tale to tell of river bank erosion, a cyclone or a flood that had forced them to give up their livelihood and take the climate migrant route to Dhaka. They are a representative sample of the 68,000 people that become long-term displaced each year by natural hazards particularly river erosion, according to Mohammad Manirul Islam, deputy Secretary with the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief. “Every year for the last 30 years we have lost 10,000 hectares of land from river erosion. There is no doubt that weather events are becoming more extreme. We are also seeing emerging hazards.  Every year for the last five or six years about 300 people are killed ever. y year by lightning.,” said Mr. Islam. It can happen overnight as was the case with the village of Shariatpur which became uninhabitable in March this year, destroying the homes and livelihoods of 2,000 people. It is twenty years ago that Tasnoor and her family fled their village in Bhola. “Most of the village was destroyed. The family lost every piece of land. We did not know how we would survive.” Her husband Dulal found work as a driver and her parents have also joined them in the slum. A similar tale is told by Morjina (60) who described how every year her mud and straw house was destroyed in floods until they finally had enough and moved to Mollah where her brother and three sisters had already moved. She is happy that her three sons have found work and that they all have enough food to eat in a country which 88 out of 117 countries included in the Global Hunger Index. Kohinoor’s father in law died in Cyclone Sidr in 2007 when she took the well-worn climate trail from Patukhali District to Khulna city where it proved difficult to find work and then moved on to Dhaka. Her husband exchanged his life as a fisherman to take charge of a cycle rickshaw. She sells vegetables. All of the women we spoke lost their homes in the fire which swept through the slum in 2018 and had to re-build with the help of neighbours. It is a place of remarkable resilience.  “We are always facing the danger of fire,” said one woman. The other challenges they list include unsanitary conditions of the surrounding environment, the heavy rainfall which brings regular flooding into their makeshift homes and the struggle to get official papers given that they have no official address. They know little about the science of climate change but they all raise their hands when asked if they were feeling its effects.  
By Sophie Hares, UNDRR – Americas and the CaribbeanRolling out early warning systems, boosting community resilience and better protecting economies and livelihoods in the Caribbean topped the agenda at the Comprehensive Disaster Management conference in Sint Maarten as the region grapples with the growing impact of climate change. Event organizer - the Caribbean Disasters and Emergency Agency (CDEMA) - said it was an opportunity to "temperature check" progress towards reducing disaster losses ahead of the 7th Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Jamaica in July 2020. "We are seeing this as a feed into that event. It will provide a lot of the messaging from the Caribbean, a lot of the key outputs we're hoping to take into the conversations next year," said Ronald Jackson, CDEMA executive director of CDEMA, in an interview. The Regional Platform will also be a chance to measure progress in the Caribbean towards meeting a key Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction target that requires countries to have national and local disaster plans in place by 2020. Six Caribbean countries and territories were finalizing plans which would show how risk has been integrated across sectors, and at least 80 percent of Caribbean countries would have their strategies in place by the time of the Regional Platform, said Jackson.  "At a time when economic losses from disasters are so high, showcasing the experience of the Caribbean and bringing the results of this meeting to the Regional Platform is particularly important," Nahuel Arenas Garcia, Deputy Chief of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Regional Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. "The Caribbean realises that disaster risk reduction only works when it's tied to development." Developing innovative "risk layering" approaches would allow cash-strapped Caribbean countries to ensure their economies were buffered against disasters while helping finance resilience building measures, said speakers at the Sint Maarten event. New micro-insurance products designed to protect the livelihoods of low-income groups and the fishing industry could also make it easier for governments to help ensure people can recover quicker after a disaster, said speakers. To ensure even the most vulnerable and hardest to reach groups were alerted to hazardous events, it was essential to identify the gaps in early warning systems and explore technology such as mobile phone apps to better warn and inform people, they said. Increased public awareness and education was crucial to make communities more resilient to hazards in the region which include floods, droughts, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, alongside devastating hurricanes, the conference heard. "This event provides an ideal platform where everybody can put their cards on the table and we can all see where each one is at, learn from each other," Andrew George, programme development officer at the National Disaster Office for St Lucia, said in an interview. "The Caribbean, being one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, we have to think comprehensive." Forging closer links with the business sector and finding ways to bolster economic growth was also key, said speakers, given the heavy financial losses from disasters in the region where many countries are already indebted. The Inter-American Development Bank estimated Hurricane Dorian cost the Bahamas around $3.4 billion, or a quarter of its gross domestic product, after it ripped through the country in October. In 2017, the region suffered the costliest hurricane season on record with estimated losses of US$300 billion, due to the massive damages caused by Hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey. Predicting increasingly intense and erratic weather conditions as climate change bites, speakers said more work was needed to strengthen building codes and ensure people better protect their homes and minimize losses.   "We ourselves have to be prepared at such a level that whenever a disaster strikes, we will not be reactive to it but will plan ahead in order to mitigate it as we want to be sure that we save lives," Renwick Quashie, a community representative from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, told the conference. Working together to pool resources and strengthen the region as a whole was essential for countries which often confront similar challenges, said speakers.  "We as a region are all subject to these hazards and we're all in this as one together," Edmund Hinkson, Barbados Minister for Home Affairs, told the conference.   Related links