Disaster Management and Mitigation workshop
19th July, 2010
Ministry of Finance
I am very happy to be present at the opening ceremony of this very important workshop on Disaster Management and Mitigation. I must commend
The Nevis Disaster Management Department (NDMD) for organizing the workshop and the Organization of American States (OAS) and NIA for
providing funding. Special mention must be also made of other Agencies that continue to work closely with St. Kitts and Nevis in the area of disaster
management and mitigation. I speak of the Caribbean disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the United Nations Economic Commission
for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC), and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
The fact that all of these agencies are actively engaged in disaster management and mitigation providing critical funding and technical assistance
demonstrates the extreme importance of this area to the sustained economic development of the Caribbean islands. This point must be underscored
because the world is presently experiencing one of the worst economic and financial crises since the great depression in the 1930s. All over the world
countries are coping with very high debts and are thus unable to provide the fiscal stimuli necessary to give a jump start to their various economies.
Instead, austerity measures are being imposed in many European Countries resulting in drastic cuts in essential services and the public service.
Some economists are even fearful that we could have a double dip recession. With all of the news headlines focused on the financial crisis, there is
the risk that attention could be diverted away from disaster management and mitigation. This would be an unfortunate occurrence since both
manmade and natural disasters continue to pose a serious threat to the livelihood of many people especially in the less developed countries. Over
the past 20 years or so, the world has had to grapple with the increasing incidence of cyclones, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions,
earthquakes and floods. Presently, we are facing a crisis in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the oil spill. There is a common denominator in all
disasters. They leave a trail of destruction and despair in their paths. A country could have one-half of its GDP wipe out in a matter of hours or
minutes. There are still many countries that have not fully recovered from the impact of disasters.
The relationship between disasters and economic development is well known to us in Nevis. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 as well as subsequent
hurricanes have dealt severe blows to our very fragile economy. They have had devastating impacts on our coastal areas, agriculture, infrastructure,
and our livelihood. The Four Seasons Resort has been closed for a second time after being battered by hurricanes resulting in a significant loss of
jobs, a dramatic drop in government revenues and mushrooming of debt, and an increase in poverty. The message is very clear. Failing to
adequately manage and mitigate disasters could have severe repercussions for our families and our country as whole. Failure to plan is also very
costly. We have seen poorly designed roads having to be rebuilt after a storm and poorly constructed homes suffering significant damage etc. This
workshop and the overall project are very late in implementation, but nonetheless a welcome initiative to help us manage future risks. Since we do not
have any control over when and where natural disasters will strike, our only recourse is preparedness.
I can recall vividly when Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989. I was an Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Finance. This was a wake-up call. The gaps in
preparation and recovery management were glaring:
1. The preparations were hastily done and ad hoc.
2. Aid management was chaotic.
3. Financial controls were weak.
4. We lacked the technical competence to produce a damage assessment report. The estimates derived had no scientific basis.
5. We did not have the capacity to effectively manage the recovery and thus the operational response was poor.
Since Hurricane Hugo, we have made progress. We have established the Nevis Disaster Management Department with a larger budget and a
broader mandate for disaster management; we have constructed an emergency centre with the assistance of the US government; we have stepped
on our training initiatives; we have retrofitted important public buildings and have enforced superior building codes; and we have implemented an
effective public relations programme to sensitize the public about disaster preparedness. The Premier’s Ministry must be commended for its
supportive and facilitative role, and Mr. Blacket and his staff must be given credit for their dynamism and leadership in this very important area.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done. It is imperative, therefore, that we begin the work to establish a proper road map to minimize the
negative impact of disasters in the future.
1. We need urgently to prepare a disaster plan for the island incorporating the views of the various stakeholders through the process of
engagement and consultation;
2. We need to focus greater attention on risk reduction ( mitigation). Perhaps a Unit could be established in NDMD in the future to deal with this
area. We must remember the adage – a stitch in time saves nine.
3. There is an urgent need for updated legislation to strengthen disaster management and mitigation. The legislation should reflect the views of
the stake holders.
4. The Disaster Management Committee should be institutionalized and be given more responsibility for policy direction. However, it needs to
meet regularly and become more proactive in disaster management and mitigation. Hastily arranging meetings when a hurricane is approaching is
reactive and will not help the island achieve its disaster management goals.
5. We need to assess the capacity and organizational structure of the NDMD to implement disaster management resource plans. This must also
involve an assessment of the Agency’s effectiveness and efficiency in the utilization of scarce resources to carry out its mandate.
6. We need to put in place early warning systems to better prepare for volcanic eruption, earthquakes, etc.
7. After proper evaluation of the use of resources, we will need to inject additional resources in the NDMD to ensure that we are able to achieve
the project goals. Every effort should be made to tap the resources of regional and international organizations but we will have to lead by example.
8. We need to develop disaster programmes for the primary and secondary schools to educate and increase awareness.
I believe that this workshop and the overall project will seek to address some of these issues and thus I do not need to proffer any more details.
However, there are challenges that we will have to overcome if we are to successfully implement this project. I would raise just a few of the critical
1. How do we find the right balance between the need for economic growth and development control? Voters expect politicians to provide
opportunities immediately. How do we marry that with the need for development control which focuses on long term sustainability? Sometimes the
Finance Ministry is at loggerheads with the physical planning departments. At the Finance Ministry we encourage the speedy implementation of local
and foreign investment projects because of the potential to generate revenue. We sometimes perceive the Physical Planning Unit as an obstacle to
progress and development. This is not necessarily true. I am just highlighting the internal dynamics that are at play.
2. How do we ensure that high priority is given to financing the cost of disaster management and mitigation? We are actually planning for a future
event that may or may not occur. There is the temptation to give priority to more immediate needs.
3. How do we protect the local investors who may not have the resources to meet the requirement of the regulations including undertaking
expensive Environmental Impact Assessments?
4. How do we reduce the cost of insurance to make coverage affordable to all property owners?
These are some of the difficult areas that we will have to overcome if we are to make serious progress in the future. I do not have the answers but I
am hoping that we will begin to search for solutions.
Despite the challenges, this workshop is a step in the right direction. With the global warming problems and the increasing incidence of disasters, the
time clock is clicking loudly. We have to get serious about disaster management and mitigation if we want to create an enabling environment for
wealth creation and economic development. Disaster Planning is not for NDMD alone. All departments of government, the private sector, households
and individuals have to become involved in the process. According to the management guru, Peter Drucker, “what makes a plan capable of
producing results is the commitment of key people to work on specific tasks”. The reason we are here today is because we have a role to play in the
planning process. We will be asked to assist with the design and implementation of disaster plans for our department. We may be asked to serve on
committees, manage shelters, undertake assessments or give advice. The list could go on and on.
Lastly I must point out that this workshop or the development of a disaster plan is not the end of the journey. The final test of a plan is its execution.
We will therefore need all hands on deck to make implementation a reality in the years ahead. Ten years from now, we should be able to look back
with pride and say this project made a difference to disaster management and mitigation in Nevis. The resources provided by the NIA and all the
regional and international partners were well spent.
I hope you have a very thought provoking and informative workshop.