Jamaica – In a show of determination and optimism in face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Americas and the Caribbean region opened a conference aimed at strengthening the resilience of communities and the environment to resist and recover from disasters of all types.
“In hosting what is now a virtual gathering we are already demonstrating the indispensable qualities of partnership and determination as we live through the most pressing disaster of our times,” Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in a video address to the opening ceremony of the Vll Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas and the Caribbean.
The four-day event had been due to be held in Montego Bay in June 2020 but was postponed because of Covid. It is expected to attract some 3,000 participants representing governments, civil society, the public and private sectors, and scientific and technical institutions to identify how they can work more closely together to cut disaster risk in the region and achieve the targets of the Sendai Framework, the global blueprint for disaster risk reduction.
The platform, the first to be hosted by a Caribbean country, will also discuss the challenges posed by human displacement, explore strategies to strengthen disaster early warning systems, boost urban resilience, and foster good governance which is a Sendai Framework priority.
“This event is extremely special and important for the region,” declared Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
“Not only is it the first time that a Caribbean government is hosting a regional platform, but it is also the first time that an event of this kind takes place since the outbreak of the worst single disaster of the last 100 years, the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in 1.5 million deaths across the region,” she said in opening remarks.
Jamaica’s Minister for Local Government and Rural development, Desmond McKenzie, said that it is particularly important to acknowledge the “role, the value and concerns” of the Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS). On average, disasters cause annual losses equal to 2.1 per cent of GDP in small island states in the region. “We are all challenged to find the best way to reduce risk … this challenge is especially daunting for SIDS,” the minister said.
Regional platforms are recognized by the Sendai Framework, a core part of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda, as critical to monitor progress on the framework’s implementation. They also help develop policies and strategies and advance knowledge and mutual learning.
The platform will discuss the Regional Assessment Report on Disaster Risk in Latin America and the Caribbean, released earlier this year. The region is one of the most hazard-prone areas of the world, accounting for some 53% of all economic losses from disasters reported in the past 20 years. It will also host an intergovernmental meeting on a regional action plan, which is being updated with lessons learned from the Covid pandemic, on implementation of the Sendai Framework, and a ministerial meeting.
“The historical moment we are experiencing compels us to ensure that our discussions during this regional platform have a concrete impact on our decisions for the future,” Mami Mizutori declared.
A powerful plea for the voice of youth to be heard in the debates was made by Kyla Gaynor, Youth Ambassador, the Jamaican Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM). The views of youth must be listened to with a new mindset – one that really takes them seriously, she said. “We bring the added muscle in this global fight. Listen to the voice of youth.”
Although disasters affect sectors of a population differently, the Covid pandemic has shown that nobody is immune to them, Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for the Latin America and the Caribbean, told the opening ceremony. There is an ethical imperative to ensure that nobody gets left behind in reconstruction efforts after a disaster, including after Covid, she added. “The most vulnerable must be the top priority,” she said.