Replicating Cuba's Model System

Cuban experts Sonia Onua and Ida Pedroso. Photo credit: Farahnaz Mohammed / UNDP Jamaica

"When can we get one?!"

The question ellicited chuckles from the conference room, but was entirely in earnest. It came from a representative from one of the Jamaica's parishes in response to a presentation by Cuban expert Sonia Onua showcasing her country's disaster risk reduction system. The first day of the Cuban Mission to Jamaica was an all-round success. Cuban delegates Sonia Onua and Ida Pedroso met with members of ODPEM, the UNDP, representatives from Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), the St. Catherine Parish Council and JIICA on Monday to introduce the Cuban model for RRMC’s as a key mechanism for disaster risk management, and to explore its adaptation in Jamaica.

Cuba’s system is efficient, with entire cities being evacuated in minutes in the face of impending disaster. Finding out how the Cubans accomplished this was simultaneously inspiring and intimidating. Their presentation demonstrated how much work is behind an effective risk management programme and how much of an impact proper disaster management can have.

The Cubans explained how they achieve the evacuation not only of people, but also of large appliances such as fridges and stoves and important resources like cattle, as well as having designated housing for families during and after disasters. The RRMCs that are located across the island in vulnerable communities work throughout the year to collect useful and detailed data. In determining the demography of a community, for example, they take into consideration not only the sum total of people, but how many children, how many senior citizens and how many pregnant women reside in the community to better adapt recovery response to the exact needs of each.

The Cuban model depends largely on the strong and central government system that is already in place, and reflected in the role and coordination of the Cuban Civil Defence. Jamaican leaders were concerned that, with such different government structures, Jamaica would have difficulty instituting the RRMCs with the same success. Pedroso commented that their real organization andtheir real strength were in the community, emphasizing that Cuba places a lot of their resources and effort into educating the community as to the dangers and resources. The mission members showed pictures of primary school children dressed up as firemen, running customary drills so they would immediately know what to do in case of an emergency. They referred to a channel in Cuba dedicated to educational programs twenty-four hours a day. “We’re really our civil defence,” Pedroso said, “Our children, our senior citizens, our adults are the ones who respond so well to disaster.”

Members of the St. Catherine Parish Council commented on how impressed they were by Cuba’s system and members from Kingston were eager to know when they could start instituting such system in their own communities.

Onua and Pedroso were realistic, offering words of caution as well as encouragement. They spoke of Cuba’s own problems, being sure to make clear that Cuba’s system is impressive now, but that it is the result of fifty years of consistent work.

During the week, the two delegates spoke to members of the St. Catherine Parish Council where the first RRMC in Jamaica is being established, met Jamaicans living in at risk communities and worked with ODPEM and the UNDP to better facilitate the replication of the Cuban Model in Jamaica.

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