Georgetown, Guyana – (January 31, 2019) Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon, who holds responsibility for the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), today, said that the responsibility of Disaster Risk Management and Response rests not only with the central government but rather, it requires a concerted effort from every member of society.
The Minister was at the time delivering the feature address at the opening of the first Annual Regional Disaster Risk Management (RDRM) Conference for Regional Chairmen and Regional Executive Officers from the Ten Administrative Regions at the Cara Lodge.
The Minister of State said Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) are a very important layer in the governance system of the country and particularly in disaster risk management and response since it is the first responder to the needs of the citizens in their respective regions.
“It is to you that the people of the region look for first response to tragedies and disasters and development and it is to you that they will look for answers. I believe that Guyana has moved away from the system where everything resides within central Government. I believe that we have changed that paradigm which says that unless the Minister or central Government is there then nothing can’t happen. We have restored the local Government system and the RDCs to manage their regions and neighbourhoods. We can’t take disaster risk preparedness as something that we don’t have to deal with. Disasters present a reality for us in all of the regions,” Minister Harmon noted.
The Minister noted that Guyana has been experiencing the effects of climate change since the massive floods of 2005 which left many communities across the country inundated. Since then, Guyana has experienced several disastrous situations as a result of climate change and global warming. These disasters, he said, severely affected the livelihoods of many villages and the overall economic and infrastructural landscape of the respective regions. Disaster risk management and response planning must therefore become a concern of every stakeholder.
“We have had and will continue to have these situations because of the low coastal plain on which we live. [The] majority of our population and what we produce is located here and so the threats of rising sea levels will continue to be something to which we have to pay attention. There are areas in which our biodiversity is threatened and so when we look at civil defence, we have to look at it in a holistic way. We also have the production of oil that will be taking place soon and so the question of oil spill management becomes another issue we will have to deal with carefully. So, we have to broaden our lenses in the way we look at civil defence. The challenges are different in the various regions,” the Minister of State asserted.
With this in mind, Minister Harmon then noted that the Conference will become an annual feature that will see all regions coming together and planning for the year as there is requirement for this system all across the country.
“In many communities you find that disaster risk management is the job of the CDC primarily and it is important that we understand that disaster risk management starts from the lowest level. You and the people are the first responders and, in most cases, the last responders. What we envisage is that all of the capacities would reside in the various regions and from the centre, you would get policy guidance. Our activities should not be reactive but we should be planning prevention methods. It is not disaster response. It is disaster risk management and this requires proactive measures as well as reactive measures,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Minister of Communities, Mr. Ronald Bulkan, with whom the CDC has partnered to make the event possible, said the Conference is timely and relevant given the challenges posed by climate change.
The event, he said, ties into the vision of the Ministry of Communities, which is to promote cohesive, empowered and sustainable communities for all citizens of Guyana. This vision, Minister Bulkan, noted is taken seriously and forms the bedrock of the Ministry’s daily strategic work.
“When we speak of sustainable communities, it is, among other things, understood to mean wider community involvement in decision making, in crafting and articulating the community’s vision in recommending solutions to challenges and disaster risk management is without a doubt foremost among those challenges. We see the involvement of the community as important to crafting plans and strategies to manage and mitigate the challenge of disaster risk management. Integral to sustainable communities also is the capacity of our regions and our communities to rebound from disasters. Responsive institutions and capacity are important to our regions in order for them to be effective first responders. Regions should have Regional Disaster Risk Management Committees because we can never be overly prepared, we can only be effectively prepared to ensure lives are safe, infrastructure protected and to minimise damage to the local, regional and national economy and national development,” Minister Bulkan said.
Director General (Ag.) of the CDC, Lieutenant Colonel Kester Craig said this year’s Conference was held with the aim of examining the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the Regional Disaster Risk Management System (RDRMS), which the Commission has already rolled out in eight of the ten administrative regions. Additionally, he noted that the work of the regions as it relates to disaster management in 2018 has been reviewed while plans for 2019 are being finalised.
“The CDC’s vision is to lead, coordinate and facilitate a sustainable Disaster Risk Management System for Guyana that reduces risk and enhance resilience to the impacts of all hazards and disasters. To achieve this vision, in 2015, the CDC embarked on a mission to ensure that each reach has a RDRMS where they are equipped and prepared to respond to all disasters; floods, droughts, oil spills, health hazards. The CDC recognises the need to decentralise risk management since each region is physically, economically and culturally unique. This realisation led to the development of this comprehensive system,” Lieutenant Colonel Craig said.
To date, the CDC has produced 24 Community Disaster Risk Management Plans, five Municipality Plans, six Disaster Risk Assessments and a Risk Assessment for Demerara -Mahaica (Region Four). It has also finalised and handed over eight Regional Multi-Hazard Preparedness and Response Plan to eight regions. The Commission hopes to complete Demerara-Mahaica and Potaro-Siparuni (Region Eight) Regional Multi-Hazard Preparedness and Response Plans by the end of 2019, thereby equipping all of the regions to prepare for and respond to emergencies and disasters.