Jamaica-hosted Americas and Caribbean disaster risk conference ends on a high note
Some 30 countries from the Americas and the Caribbean ended a key conference on disaster risk – which drew a record attendance – with a pledge to step up action to prevent and better manage disasters in a region prone to hurricanes, earthquakes and other hazards and which has been disproportionately hit by the Covid pandemic.
From Canada to the southern cone of South America, over 2,500 people tuned in to the online four-day Vll Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas and the Caribbean, which concluded by approving ambitious new steps to strengthen a regional action plan, including giving a greater voice to the young, women and vulnerable groups.
A declaration issued by ministers and senior officials at the end of the conference, hosted by Jamaica – the first time a regional platform has been held in the Caribbean – also contained a commitment to make their countries more resistant to disasters and a renewed vow to achieve the goals of the Sendai Framework, the international pact on disaster risk.
“On the theme of resilient economies, we will not and cannot wait for the end of the (Covid) pandemic to act. The very nature of hosting this conference is a demonstration of resilience,” the Prime Minister of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, Mark Phillips, told the closing ceremony. “Our assignment is to get ahead of the curb before the next pandemic, earthquake or floods. This is our assignment,” he added.
The regional conference had been due to be convened in Jamaica in 2020 but was postponed because of the pandemic. It was the first such platform to be held in virtual format.
“This seventh platform has been a great success. We have worked hard … to move the agenda of the Sendai Framework forward and, even more importantly, we did against background of the blow Covid dealt us last year,” said Desmond McKenzie, Jamaica’s Minister of Local Government and Rural Development.
For the first time, a regional platform was preceded by a special youth forum on disaster risk reduction and, following a proposal from Jamaica, countries agreed that such forums would become a regular feature of future platforms. Ministers also received and approved a declaration issued by the youth forum.
Regional platforms are a key part of the Sendai Framework, which is itself a cornerstone of the United Nations Agenda 2030 on sustainable development. The regional plan will feed into the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction to be held in Bali, Indonesia, in 2022 and into the mid-term review of Sendai the following year.
“This week we have re-iterated our commitment to reducing mortality, the numbers of people disaster-affected, damage to critical infrastructure and economic losses as set out in the Sendai Framework and to align our actions with the Sustainable Development Goals,”
Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, told the closing ceremony.
The regional platform, whose principal theme was “Building Resilient Economies in the Caribbean and the Americas”, tackled a host of subjects in its 30 sessions, including the impact of the Covid crisis, how better governance can contain disaster threats and the need for more risk-informed investment to boost disaster prevention.
“The COVID-19 pandemic combined with the climate emergency and the destruction of the natural world, have reminded us of our vulnerability and of the fragility of the systems on which we depend for our very survival,” Ms Mizutori said.
Another key theme was the connection between increasing disaster risks and climate change. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has highlighted once more how these impacts stem from human actions.
Climate change adaptation and disaster resilience need cooperation, said Elizabeth Riley
Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).
Covid has derailed the region’s development trajectory and exacerbated existing problems. But it can also serve as a catalyst for human-rights based change, she added.
“This coming together of national and local government leaders, private sector representatives, academia, scientists, youth, and communities, has demonstrated a high level of commitment to the implementation of the Sendai Framework … and bringing about a better and more equitable world,” Ms Mizutori declared.