St Vincent and the Grenadines along with countries in the Americas region on Thursday 9th March took a landmark step on the road to resilience by adopting an action plan to tackle the huge array of natural and human-induced hazards countries and territories in the region face.
After three days of talks, ministers gathered at the Canadian-hosted 5th Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas to endorse the plan, which runs to 2019.
Its aim is to align regional, national and local strategies in the Americas with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year agreement adopted by the international community in 2015.
“This really is a wonderful, historic, landmark outcome for disaster risk reduction in the region,” said Mr Robert Glasser, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.
“What has been agreed here in Montreal is the first action plan for the region, by the region, to reduce disaster risk. And disaster risk is not a hypothetical subject. It’s a matter of life, of death and of prosperity,” he added.
Besides the ministers who negotiated the action plan and the associated Montreal Declaration, participants included disaster risk reduction practitioners who took the opportunity to share lessons of dealing with hazards that are compounded by factors such as poverty, breakneck urbanisation, and climate change.
The conference followed a year in which the Americas continued to feel the consequences of a strong El Niño, over a thousand lives, were lost in the Ecuador earthquake and the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew, notably in Haiti.
While disaster deaths have gradually fallen around the world – expect in freak years marked by mega-disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2010 Haiti earthquake – economic impacts have skyrocketed and are now estimated at US$500 billion a year.
Hurricane Matthew alone caused damage estimated at US$15 billion when it scythed across Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, the United States and the Canadian Maritimes last October.
Hurricane Matthew cost Haiti around one-third of its Gross Domestic Product, in a country where over half of the population lives below the poverty line.
The 6th Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas will be hosted by Colombia in 2018.