DR. ARUN KASHYAP // Making Cities Resilient.

May 7, 2013

• The Hon. Minister Noel Arscott, Minister of Local Government & Community Development
• Your Worship, Counsellor Angela Brown, Burke Mayor of Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation;
• Mr. Richard Thompson, Acting Director, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM)
• Ms. Denise Herbol, Mission Director for Jamaica, US Agency for International Development (USAID)
• Mr. Ricardo Mena, Head of the Regional Office for the Americas, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)
• Other Distinguished guests, Ladies & Gentlemen, good morning.

On behalf of the United Nations, it is a pleasure for me to be here at the national campaign launch for the “Making Cities Resilient” initiative.

Globally, the “Making Cities Resilient” campaign provides reward systems to incentivize cities that are making substantial progress in implementing essential disaster risk reduction programmes. The launch of this global campaign in Jamaica serves to continue fostering awareness and advocacy within all levels of the Government. Through this initiative, the local government will be provided with the information and tools needed to mitigate the negative effects of disasters, so that all the key institutions will be resilient, having properly adopted disaster risk reduction best practices.

It is important that we define what we mean by the concept of “resilience”. The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction defines it as “the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner.” However the UNDP defines resilience as a “transformative process of strengthening the capacity of people, communities and countries to anticipate, manage, recover and transform from shocks” - otherwise known as build back better. We can combine these definitions and agree that it is important that we have a coordinated effort in the assessment of needs and in the planning and delivery of programmes, in order to bring together humanitarian and development actors to solve problems, empower people’s lives and build resilient nations.

Resilience can potentially act as a bridge between emergency response and long-term development aid, tackling the vulnerabilities that make people susceptible to shocks. Disasters cause human suffering, environmental and economic harm, and set back progress on eliminating poverty. If disaster risk isn’t well managed, the consequences are manifold. Disaster risk reduction is, therefore, an investment worth making by all countries. Every dollar spent reducing people’s vulnerability to disasters saves around seven dollars in economic losses. Investing in prevention not only increases the resilience of countries to future disaster, but protects economic growth and other development achievements from being lost in a single catastrophic event.

There has been a significant shift in attitude in addressing the challenges of disasters. For too long disasters have been seen as one-off events that were addressed through humanitarian response and relief efforts. For a few decades there was a clear move towards strengthening preparedness, and ensuring a more effective and efficient response. From the ‘preparedness saves lives’ approach came the insight that economics played a significant role and a recognition that a longer-term approach was required to reduce disaster risk and build resilience. Often missing in the analysis was the causal link between disaster risk and development, or more precisely the impact of poor development that often created increased vulnerability that result in development losses and, for many Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, increasing indebtedness.

Building on the Yokohama strategy and in recognition of the need to address the multidimensional aspects of disaster risk from a development perspective, the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters was adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan in 2005. The Framework serves as the guiding instrument for international cooperation, disaster risk reduction and resilience building. The multi-stakeholder and multi-sector nature of the Hyogo Framework for Action provides guidance on how disaster risk reduction contributes to sustainable development: “Disaster risk reduction is a crosscutting
issue in the context of sustainable development and therefore an important element for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration”. There is an opportunity for the post-2015 development agenda to draw from the Hyogo Framework for Action and help to address some of the challenges, for example around implementation as identified in the 2011 Mid-Term Review. One of the solutions outlined was the need for clearly defined, agreed and monitored goals
and targets around disaster risk reduction and resilience.
The level and quality of development to a large extent determines the way in which hazards impact on people and economies. There is growing evidence of the intensity and frequency of climate related extreme events. It is therefore critical that disasters be seen through the lens of reducing risk of and building resilience to disasters, rather than just a response to a one-off disaster event.

Given current trends in disaster impacts and increased exposure to risk, the incorporation of disaster risk reduction and resilience into development work through public and private sector strategies and planning for development and growth, must be a priority. In addition, more explicit recognition of the importance of reducing disaster risk and building resilience– with a goal and targets against which efforts could be measured – would be a major
contribution to meeting the challenges to be faced with sustainable development and the post-2015 development agenda.

A number of countries, through remarkable leadership and political commitment, have been successful in reducing natural hazard-related losses. It is expected that through this “Making Cities Resilient” Campaign, disaster risk reduction will be mainstreamed into the Government of Jamaica’s policies and practice. It is also expected that through this initiative, there will be an enhancement of the disaster management capacity at the local government level, and that there will be enhanced communication, coordination and knowledge sharing on disaster risk reduction within the country. This initiative supports the development of sustainable long-term strategies, which will focus on improved partnerships between civil society, local authorities and state agencies to strengthen Jamaica’s national capacity to reduce the risk of natural and human-induced hazards, and aims to lessen the negative effects of disasters when they do occur.

Disaster prone populations with weak local recovery mechanisms cope with disasters through spontaneous recovery processes that often reconstruct pre-existing vulnerabilities and increase risks of future disasters. Resilient disaster recovery at community level should strengthen local governance systems and empower community beneficiaries and other stakeholders such as civil society, media, local experts and community representatives to participate and manage post-disaster recovery. It should also enable inclusive and integrated planning and decision-making across local and national levels, improve access to funds for reconstruction, and involve community-to-community exchange of knowledge.

The local government is of great importance, because it serves as a local channel for facilitating, collaborating, coordinating, aligning and harmonizing resources and actions in response to the safety and security needs of citizens in accordance with local and national policies, strategies and initiatives. This mechanism supports the State in being able to effectively incorporate disaster risk reduction practices into its planning around safety and security initiatives, as well as enables citizens to participate in governance in relation to making their cities resilient. 

Resilience also speaks to providing for people’s social and physical well-being, which includes their security. Preventing crime is no longer solely the job of the Police. In fact, the police, the local authorities, the private & public sector agencies, citizens and communities have a shared responsibility in ensuring a safe and secure environment. To solve community problems, all stakeholders, including citizens must work together to address common concerns. Rural to urban drift of young people in particular, is one important issue that can be solved through our collective efforts, by providing social and economic opportunities for young people in their hometowns, so that they don’t have to leave the rural areas in droves to come to the city in search of jobs. Statistics show that there is a greater risk of unemployed youth ending up in criminal activity, especially when they are unable to find jobs in the city and have no place to live.

The “Making Cities Resilient” initiative will support work currently being done by UNDP with the Local Government here in Jamaica through the “Enhancing Civil Society in Local Governance for Community Safety” Project. The implementation of safety mechanisms under this project in the pilot parishes of St. Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, Westmoreland, Trelawny and St. Mary underscores the UN’s continued commitment to provide support to the Government and people of Jamaica. These safety mechanisms serve as local channels for facilitating, collaborating, coordinating, aligning and harmonizing resources and actions in response to the safety and security needs of citizens in accordance with local and national policies, strategies and initiatives. These mechanisms support the State in safety and security initiatives, as well as enable citizens to participate in governance in relation to their safety by being proactive as well as responsive to local realities and issues.

Jamaica, like other island states, is significantly vulnerable to the negative effects of increasing global warming and climate change. As such, there is a need to make Jamaica’s cities resilient in the face of disasters resulting from climate change and weather related hazards, given that they will remain a pervasive risk. Over the years, hurricanes, tropical storms, in addition to flood rains and earthquakes, have dealt devastating blows to Jamaica. Just last year, Hurricane Sandy, a category one hurricane, made a landfall in late October, resulting in damage being in excess of US$55 million dollars.

This “Making Cities Resilient” launch is quite timely, because it was just in March of this year that Dr. Eric Calais, an international seismic expert, who visited Jamaica courtesy of UNDP, stated emphatically that “Jamaica must prepare for large earthquakes”. The purpose of his seismic mission to Jamaica was to explore Jamaica’s capacity to deal with a large earthquake, and provide guidance for effecting earthquake risk reduction.

There is heightened interest in Jamaica’s earthquake risks due to the fact that estimates of current deformation  of Jamaica’s land surfaces suggest that significant strain has accumulated within faults running through Jamaica, which is sufficient to generate a Magnitude 7.0 -7.3 earthquake. Such an earthquake would be similar in size to the 1692 earthquake that destroyed Port Royal, which prior to that devastating earthquake, was the unofficial capital city of Jamaica. The presence of this level of strain may mean that a similarly devastating earthquake is imminent. The warning from Dr. Calais takes on greater significance in the context of the fact that he was among a group of scientists who warned officials in Haiti in March 2008 that that country could suffer a major earthquake in the near future, after detecting worrisome signs of growing stresses in the fault which Haiti shares with Jamaica. Two years later, that fault unleashed a 7.0 quake that devastated Haiti in January 2010, with the government putting the death toll at 316,000 people. One the sole buildings that remained standing following the Haiti earthquake, was the Digicel building, thanks to its adherence to international building standards for disaster resilience.

This very city of Kingston was destroyed by a magnitude 6.5 earthquake in 1907. At the time, it was considered one of the world’s deadliest earthquakes in history. Every building in Kingston was damaged by the earthquake and subsequent fires. The earthquake resulted in the death of approximately 1,000 people, and left approximately 10,000 persons homeless and US$25 million in material damage.   After the 1907 earthquake, a building code was put in place in Kingston which required that plans for buildings had to be approved by the Town Planning Department of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation.

There was a severe earthquake in Jamaica on March 1, 1957. In the aftermath of the 1957 earthquake, then mayor of Kingston, Balfour Barnswell, said he hoped that residents in Kingston and St Andrew now understood why there was a strict building code. No one knows the intensity of that earthquake because it damaged the lone Richter scale in Jamaica at the time. The 1957 earthquake could well have been as intense as that of 1907, but there was far less damage, thanks to the enforcement of the building codes.

Today, we have the opportunity to implement disaster risk reduction programmes in Jamaica, which, in the event of a disaster, will make the country even more resilient by increasing the likelihood that more people’s lives will be saved, less people will be injured, less of the country’s buildings and other infrastructure will be damaged, and of course by increasing the likelihood that there will be an overall lower comparative dollar value in the material damage suffered. 

As stated by Dr. Calais in his recent trip to Jamaica, the good news is that we know the solutions to Jamaica’s Earthquake hazard problem, and it’s a problem that can be solved. The issue is to implement the solutions efficiently, and to do so right now, rather than later. The reality is that the next big earthquake to hit Jamaica could occur tomorrow or 100 years from now, so it is important for us to be prepared at every level. Now is a good time to address Jamaica’s capacity to deal with a large earthquake.  Although the timing of such an event cannot be known, these recent findings show that Jamaica must prepare for such events through improved risk reduction measures.

The United Nations System in Jamaica stands ready to help the Government and people of Jamaica in whatever way we are needed. This “Making Cities Resilient” Campaign supports the UN’s overarching goal of achieving the targets of the Millennium Development Goals and ensuring that there is sustainable development beyond 2015. The assistance being given to Jamaica will help to further put the country on a path to realizing the Vision 2030 Jamaica, and thus truly make Jamaica ‘the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business’.

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