Georgetown, Guyana – (October 13, 2017) As Guyana joins the rest of the world in the observance of International Day for Disaster Reduction 2017, under the theme “Home safe Home: reducing exposure, reducing displacement”, Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon, who has responsibility for the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) and disaster risk reduction management, said that Guyana is committed to building its capacity in all areas in an effort to promote climate resilience development.

Speaking at a ceremony organised by the CDC at its headquarters, Minister Harmon said that this event highlights the ways in which people and communities around the world can develop capacity for disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness, resilience building through education and planning, the safety of life sustaining institutions such as hospitals, the preservations of sustainable resources the involvement of children and young people, girls and women and the elderly and micro-financing and micro-credit to reduce the impact of disasters on the most vulnerable.

The Minister said that the observance is being used to provide an advocacy platform for Government agencies, disaster management agencies, Civil society groups, businesses, academic and scientific institutions and other interest groups. “The 2017 campaign must increase awareness about effective action, policies and practices taken to reduce exposure to disaster risk at all levels thereby contributing to saving homes and livelihood and this can only be accomplished through coordination and cooperation and collaboration among all stake holders. We need to match the progress we have made in reducing loss of life from disaster by making similar advances in reducing the number of people affected. Disasters are gateway to poverty and distress for many vulnerable people living in low and middle-income countries. We are therefore all responsible and the success of the Sustainable Development Goals depend upon it,” Minister Harmon said.

The State Minister noted that with the recent spate of Hurricanes in the Region and the increasing effects of global warming and climate change, it is important for Guyana to take note of its geographic location and move towards strengthening and building capacity to protect itself from the effects of the phenomena.

“Our low coastal plain one to three meters below sea level supports approximately 90 percent of our population and is the main area of economic and administrative activities in our country. For example, our mainly coastal base agricultural sector contributes 32 percent of our gross domestic product (GDF). The rising levels of the Atlantic Ocean and the increasingly frequent high rain fall constantly threatens to inundate us and have on occasion resulted in extensive flooding,” he said.

Minister Harmon said that in January 2005 alone flooding on the coastland affected 23 percent of the population and accounted for economic loss of 60 percent of the country’s GDF for that year. Added to that, he noted that earlier this year, there was unusual amounts of rainfall, which resulted in flooding in East Berbice-Corentyne (Region Six), Cuyuni-Mazaruni (Region Seven), Potaro-Siparuni (Region Eight), which resulted in many persons having to leave their homes and seek refuge in shelters.

“The aftermath of these hurricanes in the Caribbean and the prognosis that this will become the new norm as well as the potential for new forms of natural disasters such as flooding, drought and rising sea levels all underscore the importance of developing resilience in all communities across Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean,” he said.

In this regard, Minister Harmon said that measures must be immediately taken in Guyana beginning with an intensification of the education programmes to inform citizens about ways in which they can safe guard themselves when disasters occur and to devise the most conducive and cohesive strategy to protect themselves and their livelihood. Secondly, he noted that the development of new building codes and specifications to make building structures and infrastructures disaster resilient must now become a norm. “Thirdly, I want to suggest that we improve and expand our communication networks such as the establishment of radio stations in our regions, towns and rural communities to keep our citizens informed about disaster preparedness, mitigation consequences and actions to be taken in the face of occurrences.
Additionally, we have to increase our efforts to institutionalise disaster preparedness in all regions of Guyana. Ours must be continuing and continuous effort to address disaster issues especially disaster reduction,” he said.

Director General of the CDC, Colonel (Ret’d) Chabilall Ramsarup, in his remarks, said that the day is being observed at a time when the world is reeling from disasters, which aren’t only more frequent but are far more intense than those recorded before. “It is the first time we have so many islands impacted at once. It is the first time we have recorded so many deaths from a Hurricane. The hurricanes were brutal and merciless. Guyana has its own challenges to deal with too. The magnitude of flooding in Regions Seven and Eight has never before been seen,” he said.

Colonel Ramsarup said that actions to combat the effects of climate change and develop resilience and a collective approach must now be taken. The responsibility does not rest only with Government, he said, but with every individual, every community, every organisation. “We can count ourselves lucky here in Guyana but if we do not prepare then our luck may run out. Make your homes safe. Our families must be prepared and that is why we are focusing on community-based management. Our focus is to build capacity, reduce vulnerabilities and decentralise disaster risk management to the people who need it. We are equipping communities so that they can respond immediately but everyone has an equal responsibility,” he said.

Deputy Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Guyana, Ms. Shabnam Mallick, in her remarks, said that climate resilience and mitigation is everyone’s business. “We are all responsible and the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depend on it. All stakeholders are encouraged to commit to tell the world what you are doing to reduce exposure and displacement,” she said.

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