By: Jeremy Collymore, Consultant Disaster Resilience, Office of the Vice Chancellor; Honorary Research Fellow, Institute for Sustainable Development, University of the West Indies

The Caribbean Region, however defined, has had a long history of disaster experiences associated with natural and man-induced hazards.  The impact on affected societies has been debilitating often resulting in the retardation of planned development.

This picture of disruption and loss is being sustained in these two decades of the 21st century.  Between the years 2000-2017 13 of CDB’s BMCs experienced high rates of loss and damage from natural hazard events estimated at USD 27bn. The 2010 Great Earthquake in Haiti resulted in an estimated USD 8.1bn or 114% of GDP in losses. In 2015 Tropical Storm Erica (torrential rain) in Dominica was a harbinger of things to come causing an estimated USD 483mn or 90% of GDP in losses. Hurricane Maria 2017 easily surpassed this with damage and losses estimated at USD 1.3 billion or 200 % of GDP (Griffith, S 2018).

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The 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Photo credit: World Vision

The Irma and Maria events have triggered an effervescent urgency for action which suggests a readiness to commit do deeper dialogue and programming on altering the development disruption cycle. In many respects this may be attributed to the increasing information about climate change, its implications for the survival of small states and regional frameworks for disaster risk management in a sustainable development pathway.

Collectively, the impact experiences and evidence of new norms in the environment of Caribbean Development have escalated the dialogue from being about damages and losses to one about the survival of Caribbean societies and economies.

Climate change is now to be targeted as an existential threat to Caribbean societies requiring counter measures to ensure survival and sustainability. In an unfolding era of the unprecedented and unfamiliar this requires new ways of thinking and practice as it relates to risk management and development.

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The effects of climate change on small island states. Photo Credit: Repeating Islands

The umbrella for framing action for risk sensitive development and risk informed investment is the value proposition of the Caribbean Resilient State associated with a strategy conceptualization around a Pathway to Resilient Development. It is accepted that the journey to this Resilience Pathway must be fueled by efforts to apply the outputs from science to drive the innovation and social transformation required.

The Understanding Risk Caribbean Conference, organized by the World Bank’s Caribbean Disaster Risk Management team, is a timely intervention in the dialogue of the Caribbean Community on framing the vision and agenda for a Resilient State in this sub-region. The just concluded Sixth Global Platform has reaffirmed many of the observations we in SIDs, land locked developing countries have long been making, a key one being that in practice the application of risk-informed investment and development decisions are still the exception rather than the rule.

It also affirmed that awareness and understanding of imminent, interconnected, and rapidly shifting risks is insufficient across the board. A wealth of essential information from new non-traditional data pools is not fully tapped into.

At Understanding Risks Caribbean, we will provide a snapshot of initial efforts to enhance risk understanding, management and mitigation. In the Session on “Towards Resilient States: Tools and Good Practice” we are presented with a diverse suite of initiatives that seek to map community perception of vulnerability and risks, create a social vulnerability index anchored on a risk information platform, enhance community through strategic targeting and the use of a hazard impacting event to recalibrate risk management policy and practice at the national level.

What we are signaling is that an assessment of existing risk related knowledge and tools is key action point in the elaboration of community, national or other levels of risk information. The message is also that the interface with traditional and scientific methods to generate the risk profile of our living spaces is critical.

A reflective review of the risk related tools, approaches and innovation, presented in UR Caribbean, that can inform the journey on the Resilient Pathway is strongly encouraged. It can open partnerships and alliances for assisting states and territories on their resilience agenda.       

To make effective use of the diverse interests and unfolding initiatives on risk and resilience in the Caribbean, and other SIDS regions, there must a state/regional level architecture to shape the dialogue and harness the interests. Risk governance will become a centre piece of the journey. So too must be more coordinated stakeholder assistance for the creation of national risk profiles, the critical ingredient in informing policy and investment.