Caribbean countries have long dealt with natural hazards stemming from geological and meteorological conditions of islands in the Caribbean sea. Collectively, these hazards have caused loss of life and cost billions of dollars in damages, affecting millions of lives in the process. Hurricane Tomas (2010), Hurricane Isaac (2012) and Hurricane Sandy (2012) alone accounted for 136 casualties and 377 million dollars’ worth of damage in the region, both as a direct consequence of the intense storms themselves as well as the ensuing risks and vulnerabilities such as flooding, landslides, affected livelihoods, access to clean water and food and public health.
While many of these adversities are a result of the hazard themselves, other adversities can be attributed to vulnerability; people being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or without adequate protection or resources to respond to a warning. Though there has been much scientific progress towards forecasting and communications technology used for hazard warnings, ultimately it is the people, the communities they live in and their ability to act on warnings that are at the centre of these systems. This ability to take early action, across all time scales, has been proven to mitigate the effects of disasters across the world.
Recognizing the need for Caribbean communities to be active participants in building and implementing protective measures and early warning systems, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) both have formalized a partnership on Early Warning Systems (EWS) in the Caribbean through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding that will support continued work in building local, national and regional resilience in the Caribbean. This formalized agreement will serve to better process community needs and account for the differing circumstances present in each community to implement readily adaptable EWS that can suit the varying contexts across the Caribbean.
“The signing of this agreement is a key step in formalizing the already strong relationship between IFRC and UNDP Barbados and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Through this agreement we will strengthen country capacity to undertake Vulnerability and Capacity Assessments as well as conduct baseline and endline surveys to assess the current level of knowledge on the nature of the hazards faced, factors contributing to the vulnerability within the communities and actions that community members can take to reduce their vulnerabilities,” said Mr. Marlon Clarke, Program Manager, Disaster and Climate Risk Management for UNDP in Barbados
The goal of this partnership is the strengthening of resilience in the Caribbean by working with National Disaster Offices (NDOs) on a national level, while engaging with other regional partners such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) and the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) to ensure that Early Warning Systems have a place in regional Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) plans and frameworks.
In explaining how the mandate of the Red Cross motivates their National Societies’ participation in EWS projects and interagency collaboration, Mr. Rendal Allen, Technical Officer for the Red Cross Caribbean Disaster Risk Management Reference Centre (CADRIM), says:
“The first aim of the Red Cross Strategy 2020 highlights the work that guides our National Societies as, ‘Saving lives, protecting livelihoods, and strengthening recovery from disasters and crises.’ This is at the core of an effective early warning system. So the collaboration between the IFRC, UNDP and the OECS has at its core working along with vulnerable communities to identify their risk knowledge, monitoring and response capabilities and warning communication to respond to crisis events that may affect them.”
The formation of such collaborations are part of the One Billion Coalition for Resilience, a global strategic framework for coalitions across all sectors and levels to work together to make one billion people around the world more resilient by the year 2025.
Allen states that this coalition “…signals a new era in the partnership between UNDP and the IFRC that facilitates and strengthens collaboration in areas of common interests. The benefit of such collaboration allows us to pool our resources, both human and financial, to identify the most appropriate community early warning system which enables us to do more.“
Speaking to the benefits of UNDP and IFRC working together from a regional approach, Ms. Virginie Andre, ECHO Head of Office for the Caribbean comments that “through specific agreements between partners at regional level, such as the one signed between UNDP and IFRC regarding Early Warning Systems in the Caribbean, an increased impact and better complementarities of the actions funded by ECHO is pursued. Such agreements for collaboration allow optimizing the expertize of each one of the actors according to each other’s mandates to be more efficient in obtaining concrete results. It is also the formalization of joint efforts from specialized partners in contributing to the objectives defined by countries of the region in line with the CDM strategy.”
These joint activities, which are part of ECHO funded regional projects including the “Caribbean Communities Organised and Prepared for Emergencies” (CCOPE) project, began 2015, with more activities on track for the remainder of 2016. The activities are being implemented by IFRC through National Societies, CADRIM and other IFRC technical units to provide quality assurance and capacity building, and support the UNDP-led installation of Common Alerting Protocol based EWS that allows hazard notifications and dissemination of alerts to be automated, adaptable to local contexts and scalable.
The activities contemplated in this agreement include:
- Capacity building workshops in late 2015 on Vulnerability and Capacity Assessments in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados led by CADRIM
- Vulnerability and Capacity Assessments in 2016 in beneficiary communities in Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in coordination with their respective NDOs, to assess the EWS capacities of the commnities.
- Knowledge, Attitude and Perception Studies (KAP) in 2016 to gauge community knowledge on the hazards they are vulnerable to.