Being Prepared Is Focus of Disaster Conference

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By Steve Thomas Observer Nevis Editor
(Barbados) – The need for improved disaster preparedness was the central topic of a recent conference held in Barbados by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response agency. The region’s approach to preparing for and mitigating the effects of natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, flooding as well as health related emergencies involving contagious diseases such as Avian Influenza, Malaria and Dengue Fever, were also discussed. “Despite the growing impact of disasters and the development of the concept of disaster risk reduction in the last years, behavior towards reducing risk and vulnerability is still at a very initial stage,” Salvano Briceno, Director of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, said. “”The number of disasters and the scale of their impacts continue to grow, driven largely by the increasing vulnerability to natural hazards, but also by the effects of climate change, threatens the lives an livelihoods of millions of people and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals,” he said. “Disaster can set back development for years or even decades, economies can be hurt in such a manner that health and education programmes suffer tremendous setbacks as scarce economic benefits are directed elsewhere in the years after a disaster occurs.” Many countries in the region still primarily focus on disaster response and continue to be dominated by humanitarian assistance and emergency management rather than focusing on risk reduction -” prevention, mitigation and preparedness -” including proper engineering and reconstruction after disasters, he said. “In many situations, this attitude can actually increase the causes of vulnerability, if efforts are not planned and coordinated with the authorities and local communities, and they do not focus on sustainable development,” he said. At the Nevis Natural Disaster Department, its director, Lester Blackett is working to upgrade local preparedness. One of his areas of concentration is communications. “You have to have multiple systems,” he said. Currently Nevis emergency responders utilize a variety of ways to talk to each other during problem periods, including cell phones and land telephone lines. A fully functional radio system is not in place, but Mr. Blackett hope this will change in the future and funding will be found to get radios in the hands of all responders. “We hope to get help from the private sector,” Mr. Blackett said. In the future, Mr. Blackett would like to see Nevis possess a self-contained emergency communications network which would utilize radio, the Internet, satellites, land lines and if all others fail, the ever-dependable siren. Mr. Blackett’s efforts seem more important than ever in view of the recently-concluded hurricane season. Although the Federation was only brushed by Hurricane Omar in October, the storm destroyed homes, businesses and shuttered the Four Seasons Nevis, a vital part of the local tourism industry. The resort is expected to reopen in April, 2009. The 2008 Atlantic Hurricane season, which ended on Nov.30, 2008, was ranked as one of the most active seasons in the 64 years since comprehensive record began. Of the 16 named storms which were formed, five were major hurricanes of Category 3 strength and higher.” Four of the five caused major devastation in Haiti, killing more than 800 people. It’s estimated that infrastructural and other property damage will top more than US$1 billion.

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