Allison Ali in St. Lucia
Inez Joseph lives in Anse La Raye in St Lucia, a fishing village surrounded by three rivers and the sea. Like many of her fellow villagers, she faces the same problem every hurricane season – severe flooding. “I have lived in this village for 45 years and every year it is the same thing,” she explained. “My home gets flooded and I lose everything. My children can’t go to school and we have to start all over again.”
Yet, while there is flooding every year, Inez says that the villagers are now more educated in disaster management and risk reduction and can therefore reduce the impact. For many years, the St Lucia Red Cross has been working in this community, one of the most vulnerable in St Lucia and home to some 4,000 families.
There are many people like Inez in the Caribbean and Central America for whom the hurricane season, which starts on 1 June, is a major cause for concern. The heavy and powerful rains cause death and destruction not only to communities but to entire countries. Meteorological experts predict that this season could witness above average levels of activity.
This is why the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is working with National Societies to scale up its disaster management and risk reduction programmes. The Red Cross plays a critical role in disseminating early warning messages and safety information at the local level by mobilising its unique network of volunteers and community members.
For four days last week, the Caribbean and Central American Red Cross met in St Lucia to discuss disaster preparedness for the upcoming hurricane season. The annual pre-hurricane meeting has become a key event in the Red Cross calendar. It brings together many experienced people and gives them an opportunity to assess their preparedness, share their views, learn from past experiences, discuss new tools and develop a fresh vision of how they should address the challenges the hurricane season may bring.
There were representatives from 23 Caribbean and Central American National Societies and Overseas Branches as well as other international agencies. Participants admitted that while Red Cross preparations for this year’s hurricane season are well underway, there is a need to scale up their approach. Over time, they noted, disaster preparedness has been proven to save lives and reduce the impact of disasters.
“Our people must take the lead role in protecting local families, property and livelihood from disasters,” said Kenneth Monplaisir, President of the St Lucia Red Cross. “The commitment to do this reflects an understanding and respect for natural disasters but most importantly a love and respect for our communities.”
He went on to say that the Red Cross needs to play a more critical role in developing and completing national disaster response plans, and develop local capacity to participate in the process. Strategies to reduce environmental degradation and climate change also need to be implemented by all countries.
National Societies in the region have recognised that the commitment to reduce vulnerability requires national and individual effort. This effort needs to be targeted at strategic objectives, continuous monitoring and evaluation in all aspects of disaster preparedness.
Leon Prop, Head of the International Federation’s Regional Delegation in Panama, emphasised the need for more effective early warning systems as the number of weather-related disasters continues to increase. He also noted the importance of working with other partner agencies in the region on disaster preparedness and risk reduction.
“The world needs effective cooperation more now that ever before,” he explained. “When disaster strikes, there are times when the resources of an affected country are overwhelmed and international assistance is required. In these situations, it is essential that such assistance can be provided quickly, effectively and to the highest possible standards for the immediate and long-term benefit of affected communities.”
Mr Prop urged participants to strengthen their relations with multilateral partners such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency. “It is not until we have those partnerships that we can make a real difference,” he said.
Last year’s hurricane season broke all records in the number of named storms, their intensity and behaviour. Millions of people were affected and it was considered to be the most active ever recorded in the Atlantic and in hurricane history. There were 27 named storms, 14 hurricanes and seven major hurricanes. The International Federation appealed for more than 10 million CHF to meet the needs of 171,000 people in 12 of the worst affected countries, including Haiti, Jamaica, Bahamas, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Cuba.