The region’s vulnerability to disaster is a development deficit

CARICOM Secretariat, Guyana – Regional disaster risk management planning must break the “cycle of vulnerability” as without effective strategies to mitigate the risks linked to the agriculture sector, poverty reduction would not occur.

These sentiments were expressed on Wednesday at the Caribbean Regional Disaster Management Symposium, currently underway in Antigua at the Jolly Beach Resort, by Dr. Vincent Little, Coordinator of the Caribbean Technical Agenda of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). He was at the time speaking on the current situation and outlook for agricultural risk management in the Caribbean.

“Hazards do not necessarily become disasters, it is the combination of hazards and the level of vulnerability that intensify the impacts of disasters,” he said, adding that the Region’s vulnerability to natural disasters was a development deficit.

Dr. Little stated that the development of appropriate mechanisms to reduce the Region’s vulnerability to disasters was crucial as the Region was characterised by Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Low Lying Coastal States (LLCS). Leaving no room for comfort, he said, was the fact that 70 per cent of all economic activities took place within a two-mile radius of the coastline, and 60 per cent of the population resided in the coastal zone.

Given these realities, Dr. Little stressed the need for an institutional framework to build resilience in the agriculture sector. Past experiences of the impact of disasters on the sector- the US$ 54.4 million in losses to flooding in Guyana in 2005 and the US$ 36.6 million losses in Grenada to Ivan in 2004- should inspire action, he stated.

“The Region cannot continue to rely on costly extra-regional development assistance for reconstruction after a major catastrophe,” Dr. Little stated, adding that this “reactive stance” was costly.

He said that the Symposium, which was facilitating an exchange of ideas among key stakeholders on disaster risk management in agriculture, had presented a “defining moment” in ascertaining the role of the sector as a “fundamental mean of alleviating poverty and as an engine of growth.”

Currently, disaster risk management was starved of adequate resources and sometimes it was used as a political tool, Dr. Little said. He suggested that this could be addressed through institutional framework of adequate and structured risk management measures at the regional, national and community levels.

The ICCA official said that such a framework should include the establishment of an Office of Chief Agricultural Risk Officer in Caribbean countries; training and public education; and enhanced collaboration among key stakeholders including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF); and the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations.

In developing the Region’s capacity for agriculture disaster preparedness, he posited, it was necessary to implement response and mitigation strategies; design and implement of risk transfer measures; and provide agricultural risk financing with greater inputs by governments.

Another critical component Dr Little posited was the availability of hazard information, and for disaster risk measures to be factored into the planning process for agricultural development. In this context, he said that closer collaboration with the Caribbean Institute for Hydrology and Meteorology (CIHM) would be useful in drought and flood analysis and monitoring and for the development of early warning systems.

Dr. Little noted also that the issue of praedial larcency linked to the deficient and uncoordinated risk management measures in the agriculture sector should not be overlooked. In this regard, he called for a review of the state of praedial larceny in the Region; greater public awareness on the issue; and institutionalised farm record keeping.

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