fThe 2014 Hurricane season is now in session as Hurricane Amanda has now passed and Tropical Depression 2-E is now churning off the coast of Mexico unleashing heavy rains, prompting Red Cross National Societies across Latin America and the Caribbean to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. In order to support these preparations, the Red Cross convened its annual preparedness meeting, held in Belize and hosted by the Belize Red Cross, this past 20 to 21 of May, 2014.
Contingency Disaster and Preparedness meetings offer a unique spaces for humanitarian actors and government authorities to come together and discuss several of issues pertaining to improving coordination and contingency planning for disaster response and relief operations, key factors in ensuring rapid and effective response.
Jan Gelfand, Head of Programmes and Operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the Americas explained “if a hurricane or disaster should impact a given country, the government and civil society capacity to respond is quite limited, therefore we have decided to partner with others through our Red Cross network in order to improve humanitarian response, save more lives, and accelerate recovery efforts”.
Edmond Bradshaw Director General of the Barbados Red Cross Society added that these meetings “Allow National Societies to be more adequately resourced to assist each other and for partner donor Red Cross societies and other agencies to better plan their assistance” Furthermore, said Bradshaw “they provide resources and knowledge on changing and developing methodologies that could be utilized for better coordination among humanitarian actors”.
This year’s meeting had a special focus on integrating social media and other innovations in technology into existing contingency plans by working with partners such as telecommunications providers to make sure information is provided, validated, and shared in an effective and responsible way so that decision makers receive correct and timely data and figures to improve the decision making process. According to Gustavo Lara Director General of the Dominican Red Cross having regional plans that allow humanitarians to work together is not enough, “it is also essential for all Caribbean National Societies to have their country contingency plans for hurricanes ready, tomorrow is already too late, and this meeting will help us reach that objective.”
Indeed many countries in the Caribbean already have plans for disaster response due to the high risk offered by the annual Hurricane season. Director General of the Belize Red Cross Ms. Lily Bowman highlighted the fact that Red Cross response to disasters has indeed been changing in recent years, mainly due to challenges, and emerging needs. “This meeting presented the opportunity to learn about new skills, tools, and technologies aimed at improving our services to the most vulnerable, through innovation in Disaster Response trainings”, added Ms. Bowman.
Further discussions addressed new user friendly approaches to cash transfers with the use of debit cards, as well as learning about the IFRC’s Green Response initiative to reduce environmental impact of humanitarian interventions as well as recommendations on how National Societies may adapt to challenges presented by climate change.
Special attention was given to discussion regarding innovation and technology, explains Anna-Maija Beloff the IFRC’s Disaster Management Delegate for the Caribbean “We now have the ability to conduct damage and needs assessments using mobile smart phones with an android based system which allows Red Cross staff and volunteers in the field to upload assessment information from the field to a cloud to provide information in real time.” According to Beloff, using this type of new technologies in an effective manner means coordinating with actors and for this reason this tool and other have been presented and their use is being incorporated into the reviewed contingency plans.
As the frequency, impact and recovery costs of disasters and crisis increase exponentially the world over, it is ever more important for the Red Cross and humanitarian partners to continue addressing humanitarian challenges that affect the lives of people living in vulnerable situations. Therefore the relevance of this meeting cannot go unmentioned, as stated by Ms. Bowman “Our disaster response plans are changing as they are adapted to the challenges emerging due to climate change. Meetings like these help us see how we will respond together, so that we can work better together, following the same standards, not only for improving disaster response, but also in preparing communities to respond on their own and build their resilience.”
Without a doubt the Red Cross continues to be in a unique position, as the largest humanitarian network in the world, which facilitates the possibility of bringing humanitarian actors and government officials. The Red Cross will therefore continue to be committed to working, in an independent manner, with governments, civil society, humanitarian partners and other organizations in order to support their capacities to respond to disasters and crisis, reduce risks, and build community resilience.
During this gathering some fifty Red Cross delegates from the Caribbean Region including ; Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Suriname, Anquilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, Guyana St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti and Belize joined representatives from the Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU), European Commision’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, (ECHO), Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) Trinidad and Tobago, the IFRC’s Caribbean Regional Representation Office (CRRO) as well as its America’s Zone Office, and delegates from the American, Finnish, Norwegian, and French Red Cross’ Caribbean Platform (PIRAC).