DR. ARUN KASHYAP: The Seismic Risk and Safety Forum

Jan 8, 2014

Madame Chairperson, Ms. Delmares White (Director of Information and Training at ODPEM)

  • Hon. Noel Arscot, Minister of Local Government and Community Development;
  • Mr. Richard Thompson, Acting Director General, ODPEM
  • Members of the Diplomatic Community
  • Colleagues from the UN Agencies
  • Members of the Media
  • Distinguished Ladies and Gentleman - a very good morning to all of you.

On behalf of the UN in Jamaica it is a pleasure for me to warmly welcome you all to the Seismic Risk and Safety Forum.  We are delighted that the Government of Jamaica - especially the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development and its Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, and the United Nations Development Programme are leading partners in organzing this important meeting and for the first time in Jamaica.

We appreciate the commitment that the Government is demonstrating including by its robust engagement in this Forum, to strengthen the knowledge base and capability to undertake preventative and timely measures that would minimize the damages to lives of the citizens, critical national assets and infrastructure and therefore the national economy should a major earthquake impact Jamaica.  And, such a discourse is long overdue.

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti nearly four years ago, our heart goes out to Haiti and the Haitians who continue to struggle to recover from the calamitous consequences of the magnitude 7 earthquake. The resulting damage was larger than the combined effects of two most intense hurricanes of the last 20 years. The 2010 Haiti Earthquake had occurred within the tectonic boundary between the Caribbean and the North American plates. The location and characteristics of the January 12 event indicate that it occurred on a segment of the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone which extends from southern-central Hispaniola to Jamaica.

Unfortunately, Jamaica is prone to serious earthquakes; in fact, many geologists estimate that an earthquake of the same magnitude that devastated Haiti in 2010 is expected to occur without any warning. I am sure that over the 1.5 days forum you will hear deeper scientific evidence from the international and national experts who have joined us – we would hear the substantiation that will demonstrate the gravity of the seismic risk confronting the country and the urgent need to remedy the tardiness in tackling it.

In March last year, UNDP had organized an exploratory mission on seismic risk in Jamaica by an international seismologist. It demonstrated inadequate national preparedness to cope with a seismic event of any significant magnitude. Even buildings that ostensibly have been constructed to certain code specifications are ill-equipped to handle major earthquakes. We are hoping that this follow up Forum will add value through due diligence of the participating experts and other principal stakeholders and lead the development of a “national roadmap to seismic safety.”  The roadmap could benefit from global good practices that underscore, for instance the importance of building codes and standards and their enforcement, imperatives of good governance, strengthened local networks, provision of safety net mechansims including insurance and the need for for creative and effective partnerships especially with the private sector.  It would be equally important to engage the Youth at both national and local levels and prepare them for a Youth Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction at 3rd World Conference on DRR 2015.

I would like to express my appreciation to the foreign offices and the Ambassadors of Chile, Japan and Mexico for providing critical partnership support by bringing in their experts to share good practices and institutional mechanisms for optimal seismic safety.  We also value the support of the governments of our Caribbean neighbors - the Dominican Republic and Haiti in identifying key experts who have joined us to share lessons learned from their own experiences on policy and regulatory requirements, preparedness and recovery.  We welcome the partnerships and hope that the Forum will significantly contribute to advance such exchanges in the context of South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation as a collaborative attempt to improve the lives of all citizens and especailly those that are marginalized.

We are confident that Jamaica has the foundation for developing and operationalizing an effective seismic risk management system.  I cannot over-emphasize the critical role of the private sector in preparing for disaster risk reduction and especially to manage seismic risk by including it in the core development processes.  We are therefore delighted to have with us prominent private sector colleagues from Jamaica and we look forward to benefitting from their insights.  I would especially like to express our appreciation to Digicel for participating in the Forum and supporting its organization.

While among the UN agencies UNDP has taken the lead in organizing this Forum, several other UN Agencies, viz., UNOCHA, UNESCO, PAHO and the UNDP Regional Service Centre have been integral to the planning process including through sharing lessons, experiences and good practices based on their learning from global experiences.  I am sure you are aware that UNESCO provides the seismic safety standards for Schools and PAHO-WHO does the same for hospitals.  UNOCHA reminds us that an effective and a timely humanitarian response based on and directed by humanitarian principles is fundamental to successfully meeting the necessities of populations affected by complex emergencies and disasters – both natural and environmental.  Both, the emergency humanitarian response and early recovery require close collaboration with sector partners within and outside the country.  An efficient response system is necessary to minimize the human suffering, environmental and economic harm, and the setback to progress caused by disasters.  This is particularly true for SIDS countries; strengthening disaster response in Jamaica, and throughout the Caribbean region, therefore must be seen not only as a national priority by respective governments but as regional collaborative priority as well.  Developing such a system is an investment worth making.

I would also like to highlight the work done by UNDSS in working with our colleagues at ECLAC to determine the safety of the offices of the UN Agencies in Jamaica.  This was a lesson we learnt from the Haiti experience.  We look forward to sharing the findings and recommendations with our colleagues at ODPEM.

The United Nations System in Jamaica stands ready to help the Government and people of Jamaica in strengthening inclusive humanitarian effectiveness, reducing vulnerability and managing risk including  for reducing the adverse impacts from earthquakes. This would require effective and innovative partnerships between the Government, non governmental organizations, local communities and new partners like the private sector and philanthropy to design an integrated emergency coordination system for the country’s humanitarian partners.

We look forward to an active dialogue among all the participants. We are convinced that Jamaica has the capacity and willingness to rapidly put in place necessary mechanisms to safeguard its citizens and its assets from the effects of disasters, and to help achieve Vision 2030 Jamaica.

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