Jamaica's Prime Minister opens regional DRR meeting


Richard Waddington

RP21 opening session

In a show of determination and optimism in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the worst disasters to hit the world in decades, the Americas and the Caribbean region opened a key regional 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, which had been due to be held in Montego Bay in June 2020, but was postponed because of the pandemic, will draw some 3,000 members of 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 RP21, 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 one of the pillars of the Sendai Framework. 

“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, 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 caused 1.5 million deaths across the region,” she said in her 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% 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 added.

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 in 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 being one of the most hazard-prone areas in the world, accounting for some 53% of economic losses from disasters reported globally 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-19 pandemic, on the 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 for 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-19 pandemic has shown that nobody is immune to them,” Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, told the audience of the opening ceremony. “There is an ethical imperative to ensure that nobody is left behind in reconstruction efforts after a disaster, including after COVID-19,” she added. “The most vulnerable must be the top priority.”

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