JIS News

Permanent secretaries, national disaster directors and coordinators from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Authority’s (CDEMA) North-West region, are in the island for a week of activities aimed at coming up with a comprehensive disaster response strategy.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), as focal point for the North-West sub-region, is hosting the week, which got underway on Monday (March 12) with two days of discussions involving top level personnel.

In addition to Jamaica, the group involves Belize, the Bahamas, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

During the week, the group will, among other things: review the findings of the 2011 Sub-Regional Focal Point (SRFP) audit and examine opportunities for sustainability of annual SRFP meetings; discuss action plans and logistics planning for the sub-region and how this is linked to the national and regional levels; assess the capacity and needs of the sub-region including the problem of transportation; and practise mobilising support in a simulation format.

Director General of ODPEM, Ronald Jackson, tells JIS News that during the week, the group will be examining a number of key protocols, documents, findings and decisions made in previous meetings. He says the aim is to “look beyond responses, toward creating and improving on synergies in a bid to strengthen the process going forward”.

“We’re looking at what are the commonalities and what are the areas that we can jointly pursue and how we can efficiently use regional financing to the benefit of all the countries in the region,” he explains.

He says coordinating regional financing is important, especially as a number of the international donor agencies are turning their focus on countries in Africa, which are facing “enormous problems”.  

Mr. Jackson notes, however, that new donors, such as Australia and Austria are coming on board, adding to the efforts of the Canadian, British and Japanese governments, so there is some stability in terms of financial resources.

Technical Manager for preparedness and country support at CDEMA, Andria Grosvenor, tells JIS News that the meetings are crucial in bringing together people at the operational level with policy and decision makers, as well as others of like interest, for dialogue and resolution.

“Having these permanent secretaries and high level persons being au fait with the challenges associated with the countries in the sub-region or the needs that will be required in an emergency situation, not just for the receipt of goods, but the dispatch of personnel, becomes important, and will help in the support of each other, once there’s an emergency situation,” she notes.   

“We need this to be done and quickly.  We understand the sovereign right of a country and no institution can ever override that right. So having this dialogue before, means when you get the word that you can move, you can move now,” she adds. 

Senior Medical Officer for Health and Director of Emergency Disaster Management and Special Services in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Marion Bullock DuCasse, underscores the importance of the meetings in strengthening Jamaica’s capacity to respond at the regional level.

“We have to recognise that we have a responsibility to be able to respond to the needs of other countries immediately, post any emergency or disaster.  Interacting with our colleagues from the countries that we will respond to, makes it very meaningful as we can gather information and knowledge on what is happening in their countries ahead of time, so when we have to respond, we have the wealth of knowledge, experience and the networking in place,” she points out.

Starting on Wednesday March 14, the participants will be engaged in operational strategy workshops, and the week closes on Friday (March 16), with a “desk top” simulation exercise.

“It will allow them to go through the paces… to sort of examine what we have at our disposal and how that will be used effectively to treat with the problem,” Mr. Jackson explains.

He tells JIS News that the decisions coming out of the interactions “are going to be embedded in our various programmes of works at the national, regional and sub-regional levels and become part and parcel of how we operate; become part of the DNA.”

The 18 member states of the CDEMA are divided into four sub-regions and Jamaica was appointed leader for the North-West region, primarily because of the country’s proven track record, its vast experience and human and technical capacity in dealing with disasters, and pro-activeness in offering help to other islands.

Jamaica, for example, was the first Caribbean country on the ground in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, offering human and technical assistance, and was later charged with coordinating the regional response to the disaster.

“Jamaica is the proven leader within the region for disaster risk management.  We have built over 30 odd years of strong leadership and we’re also one of the chief innovators in the region, which set us apart from our colleagues and we’re proud of that,” Mr. Jackson says.


By O. Rodger Hutchinson, JIS PRO