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Prime Minister the Hon. Bruce Golding has called on the region’s disaster management professionals to empower communities to manage their own disaster prevention and risk recovery. He identified this as an area that is seriously lacking in the region’s response mechanisms.
Speaking at the opening ceremony for the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), in Montego Bay (December 8), Mr. Golding said that he was pleased with the theme, “Strengthening Caribbean Disaster Management through Youth and Community Empowerment”.
“I am delighted that you have chosen as your theme youth and community empowerment…We are more proactive, we are engaged in better mitigation practices; we know the resources that are available; we know the resources we have and we know how to command them…I strongly believe that with all of the resources that we have been able to solicit…Our greatest resource is our people. The people in the communities. The people in the very communities that are often at the centre of the disaster. They can do far more than all of the organised response capabilities that we provide. They can do far more than we can to minimise the impact by the preventive measures that they need to take,” he said.
“They are the ones who are at the point of distress so that they know more about the disaster than we who are sitting down in front of ten computers think that we know. They are there, they are on the ground, and they know where the trees are falling and where the bridges are collapsing and where the landslides are coming down. They can respond to emergencies long before our rescue teams are able to cross the swollen rivers to get there. One of our biggest challenges is how to harness this enormous resource that lies, very often, inert in our communities. How to mobilise them into a people’s brigade; how to sensitise them and how to imbue in them a sense of purpose and a sense of responsibility; how to impart to them the skills and techniques that they need, how to sharpen their reflexes and how to build their own capacity…it requires a structure, a sustained, strategic programme. It requires that the national stakeholders be brought and made to be involved and made to take ownership…It needs the kind of evangelical zeal and commitment that is part of our religious culture, but needs to become part of our risk reduction and disaster management culture as well. Within those communities, our young people can be the willing and effective recruits.”
Mr. Golding highlighted the first aid programme organised by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) where 377 youth were trained as first aid responders during the current year. There are plans to double this figure in 2010.
Executive Director for the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Association (CDEMA), Jeremy Collymore, called on his Caribbean partners to seriously review the cost of replacing infrastructure and make disaster prevention and management a mandatory part of central policy and fiscal budgeting.
“Another matter that I want to bring under the radar tonight is the issue of urban vulnerability. Most of our peoples, production assets and service assets are city located and generally coastal located. If there is any issue we need to focus on for climate change adaptation is the future of our economic assets. There is one thing we know for sure. Most of the disasters experienced are local and are generally split around our information landscape but the cumulative effect can be telling on the economies of less developed economies…The better unmasking of these local repeated events may provide insights as to some of the challenges that we are having on our public sector financing. It is about time that we look closely at the real costs of not taking appropriate actions in dealing with the risks to which we are exposed.”
In her address, Head of Section of the European Union (EU) Economic and Social Development Delegation for several Caribbean islands, Helen Jenkinson, congratulated Jamaica in its success on gaining funding for key disaster management packages.
“In this context I would like to congratulate Jamaica, because they are receiving EU support for four million Euros in our climate change package, and nearly 6 million Euros under the EU food facility. These are two relatively recent financial instruments set up by the Commission specifically to deal with very recent and ever increasing challenges, of climate change.”
The Prime Minister officially opened the exhibition of the four-day conference. Montego Bay is the host city for the 250 delegates who are attending the gathering. CDEMA is based in Barbados and this is the first time in its four-year history that the conference is being held outside of that country.

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