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Disaster risk reduction must be top priority

Sunday, July 7, 2013

I have read of calls by the ODPM for a national flood and water policy and wish to suggest that the country develops an earthquake-prone building policy where all new buildings are designed to meet the highest standards utilising new technologies to mitigate against the hazard’s associated with earthquakes. The current seismic design criteria outstrips the design criteria of the ’80s and there is an urgent need for the seismic evaluation of our buildings, plants and facilities.


In addition, I hope that my recommendations for an immediate seismic evaluation of all public buildings and shelters be undertaken with a sense of urgency and retrofitted where necessary. 



The primary focus should be on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and this was reinforced by Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General who said, “The more governments, UN agencies, organisations, businesses and civil society understand risk and vulnerability, the better equipped they will be to mitigate disasters when they strike and save more lives.” 


Everyone’s business
Disaster risk reduction includes disciplines like disaster management, disaster mitigation and disaster preparedness, but DRR is also part of sustainable development. In order for development activities to be sustainable they must also reduce disaster risk. On the other hand, unsound development policies will increase disaster risk and disaster losses. Thus, DRR involves every part of society, every part of government and every part of the professional and private sectors.


I therefore wish to advise that risk reduction should be given top priority as we prepare ourselves for the eventuality of a disaster. 



On May 23 in Geneva, a three-day Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction was held and was attended by a record 3,500 people and representatives from 172 governments. Global Platform Chair, Martin Dahinden, directorg general of the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation, said: “This global platform confirmed that the process to develop a successor to the existing global agreement on disaster risk reduction, the Hyogo Framework for Action or HFA, is well under way. 


“There is consensus that the new instrument should build on the HFA, and introduce the necessary innovations to address the challenges of increasing risk over the next 20 to 30 years. We need to enable local action, address climate risk and recognise the central roles of both the scientific community and the private sector which were both very present at this Global Platform.” We must be careful in placing the cart before the horse because this will be to the detriment to the health safety and welfare of the citizens of our country.



Risk reduction about choices
Disaster risk reduction is the concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyse and reduce the causal factors of disasters. Reducing exposure to hazards, lessening vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improving preparedness for adverse events are all examples of disaster risk reduction. 


We all know that natural disasters are unpredictable and devastating; there are concrete steps that the governments and the private sector can take to reduce future human and financial loss.



In a World Bank report on Water Resources Management it states inter alia, “There is ample evidence that climate change will increase hydrologic variability, resulting in extreme weather events such as droughts floods, and major storms. It will continue to have a profound impact on economies, health, lives, and livelihoods. The poorest people will suffer most and are the least prepared”.


Dr Stephen Ramroop CEO, ODPM recently said that “Recommendations from the recently concluded Global Platform places high priority on private sector roles in DRR and CCA and the role of Governments in co-ordinating sectoral responsibilities—all new critical facilities should be properly zoned and coded and built.



Prioritise our key critical facilties that are in high risk areas (as currently being identified by our IDB/UNDP project) and retrofit them immediately—T&T is now one of the highest risk for 1-250 yr return on earthquake risk! We have an unsafe hospital building at POSGH that needs urgent attention now.”


It was reported that the Minister of Education Dr Tim Gopeesingh said that “the scale of maintenance works outstanding at his ministry, with at least 100 schools in need of reconstruction or serious remedial works by his accounting. That’s an intimidating list and it’s clear that these aren’t schools looking forward to a bit of patchwork and paint.



These buildings are part of a crisis pool of 100 schools that are older than 100 years, and 300 more that are more than 50 years-old that require serious attention. Are these the same buildings which are to be used as shelters in the likely event of a disaster?


In closing may I point out that while we are working towards the delivery of a national building code much can be done in the interim to reduce the risk associated with disasters by engaging stakeholders to find ways of resolving this problem in the interest of the health safety and welfare of our citizens.


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