- The increasing intensity and frequency with which disasters are being experienced in the Caribbean demonstrate the critical need to enhance disaster risk management.
Even though governments and international organizations have been following up the issue of environmental migration, the need for capacity-building and knowledge-sharing on migration, environment and climate change remains a challenge. The success of such plans will depend on their consistency with macro-stability and sustainability.
Disasters in the Caribbean often cause millions of dollars in losses to infrastructure and to economic and social sectors of countries in the region. World Bank studies indicate that approximately 26 million people fall into poverty each year due to natural disasters; and even greater exposure to disasters has important macroeconomic effects on small states, resulting in lower investment, lower GDP per capita, higher poverty, and a more volatile revenue base.
Disasters also exacerbate the vulnerability of the population exposed to the hazards, and also increase the emigration because many of the affected people in particular those with some skills leave the affected countries, one of the example is Dominica where the housing recovery programs are delaying in the implementation.
Can disasters be a turning point to build resilience?
Disasters can also be seen as an opportunity to plan a more sustainable future, rather than merely respond to them. These are an opportunity to create innovative and long-term solutions such as reconstruction of better infrastructure that can withstand hazards, new sources of financing including: mobilizing innovative risk financing tools to better manage fiscal risks and leveraging the private sector in finding solutions.
Countries should create fiscal and other policy plans for disaster and climate change resilience, considering the following elements:
- Research and quantification: in general terms, the Caribbean has been described as “data poor” and because of this lack of information, the implementation of policies and standardization of procedures have been a challenge. This limits the ability to measure priorities, proximity to the goals or improvements (e.g. their likelihood of realization, accurate decisions on where to locate and how to construct private commercial and residential properties, forecast of potential impacts, and key vulnerabilities, infrastructures at risk, vulnerable communities and populations).
Of equal value to the data collection must be the architecture of the system – the guidelines and the involvement of institutions in an active way – that must be strengthened for better results.
- Invest in risk reduction: programs need to be developed, addressing the identified vulnerabilities, and encouraging private and financial investment on risk reduction. This can be done by defining rights to own and lease maintaining property values, through affordable and effective land titling procedures, establishing market-friendly rent controls and less costly taxes or subsidies to attract investors for reconstruction of properties to strengthen resilience. Training programs for self-protection and building trust, sensitization campaigns developed based on the inputs of the research and communication strategies developed to communicate the people in time.
- Develop contingency plans: to ensure rapid disaster response, leadership responsibilities should be explicit, and programs should be triggered by clear goals, not just at the government level, but at the local level; and need to be aligned with incentives so that the private sector works under risk reduction guidelines. These contingencies plans align with the national plans of disaster risk reduction.
- Arrange contingency financing: Contingency plans should include fiscal reserve and contingency funds, providing immediate liquidity for disaster relief. The first challenge will be to evaluate how savings can be increased (e.g. including a sizeable provision for future natural disasters in the annual budget) and creating a clear time table that shows the policy adjustments.
- Systematically reduce the risks that exist today: In the Caribbean, between 60% and 70% of construction is informal and in general makes their infrastructure very vulnerable because of the building codes. It is imperative that governments have control of this situation and pay special attention to the poorest areas which present a much lower resilience capacity than other sectors because this population live in high-risk areas. Relocations could be considering in the strategy of reduction if the areas are overcrowded and the hazard is high.