Georgetown, Guyana – (July 10, 2019) Minister of State, Mrs. Dawn Hastings-Williams alongside Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Mr. Joseph Harmon and Director General of the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), Lieutenant Colonel Kester Craig, today, turned the sod for the construction of a $96M Regional Disaster Management Centre in Lethem, Upper Takutu- Upper Essequibo (Region Nine).

Minister Hastings-Williams, who has responsibility for disaster risk management in Guyana and within whose purview the CDC falls, in her remarks said the Centre will be the first of its kind in Guyana but other such centres will be opened in Barima-Waini (Region One); Cuyuni-Mazaruni (Region Seven) and Potaro-Siparuni (Region Eight). This multipurpose building would provide shelter for both men and women, include a warehouse, training facility, conference room and office space.

She noted that the sod turning ceremony marks the first day of construction of a building to house staff whose mandate is to strengthen regional capacities for disaster preparedness and response; to reduce disasters and their impact through enhanced regional capacity and cooperation, and to boost disaster management capability for sustainable regional development.

“The Government is committed to building similar facilities to ensure these remote regions can effectively respond to emergencies and disasters on their own. The Regional Centre will house a warehouse to pre-position and stockpile relief supplies, a shelter to accommodate displaced persons, a training facility and offices for emergency personnel. The facility is expected to increase the efficiency of emergency response operations in the region by reducing the cost and time for shuttling relief supplies from Georgetown into the region. The facility will allow for items to be sourced within the region for stocking the warehouse, which is anticipated to have a positive spill-over effect on the local economy. Additionally, the shelter facility will boost the region’s capacity to provide housing for residents displaced during flooding. The offices and training facilities will improve preparedness measures such as capacity building,” she said.

The Minister of State noted that the Government is cognisant of the several hazards the region has faced in the past, ranging from flooding to droughts and bush fires and has therefore, taken a proactive approach to the management of risks through the CDC.

“This initiative is a part of a plan of continuous strengthening of the Region Nine Regional Disaster Risk Management System (RDRMS). Future plans include the establishment of a trained and equipped Damage Assessment and Needs Analysis (DANA) team, enhancement of Early Warning Systems (EWS) within Lethem and the development of municipal, neighbourhood and community-based Disaster Risk Management systems throughout the region,” Minister Hastings- Williams said.

Meanwhile, Director General Harmon, under whose stewardship the project originated and was included in the 2019 National Budget, said Guyana should be proud of the steps it is taking in disaster risk management.

“Since we came into office in 2015, President [David Granger] has made disaster preparedness a priority and his instructions to me were that we should take disaster preparedness to the correct level… When we got into office, [there was no] 24-hour monitoring capability or many of the things [that] should have [been in place]. Under his guidance, we were able to move the CDC from a small operation to what it is now. The decision to build this facility was not a hard one to make because every time there is rainy season and there is flooding it becomes difficult to move materials and machinery from the capital to here,” he said.

The Director General noted that the facility was meant to be funded by an international agency but after months of back and forth, the Government took a decision to budget for it to lessen the adverse impacts upon persons affected by emergencies.

“The development of all of Guyana is something that is crucial to us as a Government. It is a thrust of ours to ensure that development does not take place only in one region. Every region in our country is important and we will continue to do what we have to do to improve the lives of our people,” he said.

In addition, the Director General of the CDC said that the $96M represents the largest direct disaster response capacity investment by the Government in the history of Guyana. He noted that the CDC continues to work assiduously to enhance the National Disaster Risk Management system in Guyana through decentralisation and building institutional capacities and mechanisms at all levels.

“Over the last few years the Commission and its volunteers worked with several communities across the country implementing Community-Based Disaster Risk Management systems and training community members in damage assessment, search and rescue and first aid, just to mention a few. The Commission has also commenced works at the municipality and Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) levels and has thus far completed risk assessments and plans in several municipalities and NDCs that will soon be implemented. Notwithstanding the works done at those levels, the bulk of the advancement in disaster risk management has been implemented at the Regional level as nine of the Ten Administrative Regions now have completed Disaster Risk Management Mechanisms,” Lieutenant Colonel Craig said.

These systems include hazard, vulnerability assessments, risk profiles and maps, Regional Disaster Risk Management Committees, Regional Emergency Operations Centers Standard Operation Procedures and Disaster Preparedness and Response Plans. Further, all of the Regions have persons trained in shelter management, damage assessment, Emergency Operations Centre Management and Disaster Risk Management.

“A fully functional regional disaster management system would save lives and reduce losses and damages to properties, businesses, and infrastructure. In 2016, the then Minister of State with responsibility for Disaster Risk Management, Mr. Joseph Harmon outlined his vision to the CDC to further strength Disaster Risk Management in Guyana. This included but [was] not limited to some already achieved tangible outputs such as the now 24 hours National Emergency Monitoring System that monitors all hazards across the entire country, the expansion of the CDC headquarters, hiring and training of additional personnel, increased budgetary allocation and the procurement of much needed assets to improve response,” he said.

Lieutenant Colonel Craig assured that the Commission has a very stringent monitoring, control and evaluation system, which would see daily site monitoring and weekly status meeting with the contractor to ensure the residents receive the best value and benefits of that investment.

Councillor of the Regional Democratic Council (RDC), Mrs. Sandra Rafino welcomed the initiative, noting that the lives of the residents will truly be improved with the construction of the facility.

“This exemplifies the Administration’s commitment and it is truly people-oriented. It is not only putting in place a building that will benefit the people but it will also enhance the multi-agencies in a collaborative manner, in this region. If you fail to plan, you will plan to fail. With the availability of this facility and the resources that would be available, this would be able to strategically plan and diffuse eventualities. We have long suffered a lack of vital items during the rainy season so surely this initiative is not only planning but actualising plans,” she said.

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