Caribbean steps up earthquake risk reduction

At the Caribbean Urban Seismic Risk Forum (from left): Mr. Arturo López-Portillo Contreras, ACS; Mr. Ronald Jackson, CDEMA; Mr. François Anick Joseph, Minister of the Interior and Local Authorities, Haiti, Mr. Fritz Deshommes, State University of Haiti; Mr. Yves Fritz Joseph, National Laboratory of Building and Public Work of Haiti (Photo: UNDP Haiti)
 
By Alexcia Cooke

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, 16 January 2017 – Seven years on from the devastating earthquake in Haiti, countries from across the Caribbean are working hard to reduce the risks posed by seismic threats, as part of their wider drive towards sustainable development.

The magnitude-7.0 quake of 12 January, 2010, claimed around 150,000 lives and affected over three million people.

Earthquakes are the single-most destructive form of natural hazard in the Caribbean. Many countries within the region face the specter of future quakes, which occur when strain accumulation on segments of the adjacent tectonic plate boundary exceeds breaking point. To a large extent, the resulting damage will depend on the choice of risk management measures – notably building standards – that are implemented to avoid or reduce vulnerability to strong shaking.

Efforts to improve such risk management have gathered pace over recent months. Over 150 participants from around the region met at the Caribbean Urban Seismic Risk Forum in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince in September 2016.

The forum offered an provided an opportunity for Caribbean countries to chart a path to sustainable development through the exchange of experiences, information-sharing and the joint development of the ‘Regional Roadmap on Urban Seismic Risk Management in the Caribbean’.

“It provides the basis for the kind of concerted action that is needed by a wide range of stakeholders in the region.  In any Caribbean island, a much larger proportion of the buildings and infrastructure were likely built before effective seismic codes were implemented and less than 2% of this stock is replaced per year.  For this reason, the threat of damage to any one nation is potentially catastrophic,” said Dr. Richard Robertson, Director of the Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies, whose institution was part of the team that crafted the Roadmap.

At the session, Haiti’s Minister of the Interior and Local Authorities François Anick Joseph emphasized the importance of managing seismic risk in a region that is seeing fast-pace urbanization, compounding the vulnerability of small, developing economies.

The Roadmap will assist stakeholders from local, national and regional levels as well as public, private and civil society sectors, to identify, implement and report on actions taken in their various spheres of work on risk governance, understanding urban seismic risk, mitigation and preparedness, response, recovery and reconstruction, public awareness and education, risk finance and transfer, and business continuity planning.

Mr. Ronald Jackson, Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) lauded the plan.

“I would like to reiterate CDEMA’s support for the utilization of the Roadmap from a regional lens, including the coordinating, monitoring and reporting scope of involvement in the future,” he said.

“There is certainly evidence that the operational coordination capacity for adverse events has improved in Haiti. However, we still lament the fact that building standards have not advanced at the pace to ensure that new construction is more resistant to seismic events certainly of the magnitude Haiti experienced on January 12, 2010. The Roadmap presents an opportunity for this issue to be advanced both at the policy and programmatic level within Haiti so that in the future we may see a drastic reduction in mortality to earthquakes,” he added.

The Roadmap was developed with challenges in mind such as poor risk governance, insufficient preparedness, and the need for improved scientific knowledge in order to refine regional natural hazards maps, ineffective building regulation framework, limited enforcement of building codes and natural hazards damage mitigation as part of the planning system, and inadequate risk financing.

Mr. Ricardo Mena, Head of UNISDR’s Americas office, commended Haiti and the region for taking the initiative to increase resilience in urban areas and thereby implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year global blueprint adopted in 2015.

Experts from across the region including the Haitian state agencies, The Seismic Research Centre of University of the West Indies, the Council of Caribbean Engineering Organizations, the Mona Earthquake Unit, the Puerto-Rico Seismic Network and representatives of National Disaster Management Organizations provided guidance on the state of play along with recommendations of key next steps to improve the current status of urban seismic risk management in Caribbean countries.

Mr. Fritz Deshommes, Rector of the State University of Haiti, stressed the importance of scientific research as the basis for decision-making processes. “The University, the State, the technical and financial partners, and civil society entities, must work in symbiosis for efficient seismic risk reduction action in urban areas in the Caribbean region,” he said.

Work on the Roadmap was financially supported by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance.

5th Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in May 2017 5th Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in May 2017.
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