President Dr Irfaan Ali today underscored the importance of building robust and resilient foundations of development in the region to help countries better respond to natural disasters.
The Head of State was at the time delivering the keynote address during the Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C) and the High-Level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP) virtual consultation.
In his address, President Ali focused on well-being and empowerment of the citizenry, food security, sovereignty, poverty alleviation and environmental resilience. He stated that having robust readiness in disaster risk reduction and emergency response was equally important.
The Head of State explained that in the process of preparedness and response readiness, a number of international instruments are extremely helpful, including today’s consultation, as well as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was developed by high-level experts. It was adopted in 2015.
“I believe, as a timely and relevant complement to the ‘Sendai Framework’ these principles, backed by political will, have the potential to help governments and stakeholders to be better prepare to manage water-related disasters during and after the pandemic. It is therefore an indispensable tool for those involved and interested in water-related disaster risk reduction.”
These ‘principles,’ he added, are tailored to address water-related disasters but are equally applicable to other types of disasters. He said that they also serve as a reminder that unless such disasters are properly managed, they can lead to an escalation of the pandemic.
”It is within this context that I welcome this consultation on the principles to address water-related Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) under the COVID-19 Pandemic. I look forward to a healthy exchange of ideas and to the generation of insights which can foster not only a better understanding of the ‘principles’ but also to engender a determined commitment to further strengthen disaster risk reduction for water-related disasters.”
The President added that the lessons learnt from natural disasters and the pandemic are interconnected; he emphasised that the pandemic, is not the only existing challenge which faces humanity and therefore should not divert attention from or diminish the gravity of the dangers posed by other risks, including hydro-hazards.
He also acknowledged that the Caribbean is prone to natural disasters, including water-related natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, landslides and the overtopping of sea defences and riverbanks. These along with water-borne diseases affect human health, destroy and damage the physical infrastructure and other resources, and inflict huge economic costs and the loss of human life.
”The risks from the pandemic combined with the threats posed by natural disasters, particularly the threat of water-related disasters, have led to the coining of the term “twin risks”. As we combat the ‘twin risks’ of natural disasters and the pandemic, we are also obliged to pursue greater resilience. We have a responsibility to ensure that every country, every organisation and every family rebound from the pandemic, even as we protect them from other disasters such as hydro-hazards. At the level of policymakers, this responsibility requires making choices.”
He expressed the hope that the consultation would provide useful insights and contribute to improved management of water-related disaster risk reduction.
Guyana’s COVID-19 response
President Ali also used the opportunity to outline his Government’s comprehensive, inclusive, integrated and multifaceted approach to the pandemic. ”In terms of managing the pandemic, we appointed a broad-based task force which included medical personnel, the private sector and other stakeholders.”
He added that Guyana increased tests and testing capacity, and strengthened the capacity of hospitals, especially regional hospitals to provide medical care for infected persons.
In addition, the country has acquired adequate supplies of personal protective gear, medical equipment such as ventilators and oxygen concentrators and medications to improve treatment and patient recovery. More importantly, the country has provided support to frontline workers and retrofitted a special infectious disease hospital where seriously ill patients are treated. He said that contact tracing is also being undertaken when cases are identified.
”We have also prepared a vaccine rollout plan as part of the immunisation process which will commence as soon as vaccines are received. Public education is ongoing. I mention these things to emphasise the fact that the model of a multifaceted and integrated approach to the pandemic may be tailored and adjusted for other types of disasters, including water-related disasters.”
President Ali congratulated the High-Level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters for leading the effort on water-related disaster risk reduction during these challenging times.
He said that climate change and variability have increased the occurrence of water disasters in the Caribbean region and that governments have begun to give greater priority to DRR.
“Many efforts are being made to build capacity, influence policies and develop strategies to better equip countries and their populations to become more resilient to water-related disasters. Rising to the occasion, the High-Level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP) has developed a set of principles to address water-related Disaster Risk Reduction under COVID-19 situations. The principles present urgent practical advice for leaders and managers with expertise in responding to DRR or COVID-19 challenges, to be better prepared for these twin risks.”
The engagement was held under the theme ‘ Principles for Addressing Water-Related Disaster Risk Reduction during the COVID-19 Pandemic’.
The purpose of the online consultation was to discuss and gain insights on how to practically implement key suggestions proposed in the HELP principles to address water-related disaster risk reduction under the Covid-19 Pandemic. The event also aimed to encourage exchanges among decision-makers, experts and practitioners in the Caribbean region, on how to be better prepared for co-occurring disasters on water and health.