7th CDM Conference: Guyana’s road to resilience

Montego Bay, Jamaica, December 4th, 2012, (Panos) - In the first plenary session of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA)’s  7th Caribbean Conference on Comprehensive Disaster Management being   held at the  Hilton Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica from December 3rd – 7th, 2012,  a  High Level Panel Discussion with government ministers saw the sharing of  experiences in the challenges of disaster risk management under the topic “Repositioning Disaster Resilience in the Development Agenda.”

Panellist  Mrs. Elisabeth Harper, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Guyana presented the following paper, “A perspective and initiatives of the Government of Guyana: Guyana Disaster Risk Management Strategy.”

The forward looking presentation predicts an improved quality of life for Guyanese with the reduction of vulnerabilities in a sustainable manner:

The low coastal plain of Guyana which supports 90% of the population and is the administrative, agricultural, commercial and industrial centre of the country is 1 to 3 meters below sea level.

As a result of the dynamic interplay between high tides, heavy rainfall and a network of drainage and irrigation canals, conservancy dams and sluices designed to support agriculture, the coastal zone is susceptible to high risk of flooding. This risk is also increased by the extensive sea defense structures along the coastal zone. These defenses are more than 150 years old and require continuous maintenance. Flood and drought risks are also relatively high in several regions of the country. Between 1988 and 2006, flood events affected 965,000 persons and resulted in more than US$663 million in economic damage . Furthermore, in January 2005, severe floods in the coastal zone affected 25% of the population , resulting in total losses equivalent to 60% of GDP in that year. In June, 2011 severe flooding also affected the interior communities in Guyana situate in Regions 9. Besides natural disasters, man-made disasters have also occurred in Guyana; the most notable to date was the cyanide spill which occurred at the Omai Gold Mines in 1995. In order to effectively manage the multiplicities of risks inherent to Guyana, an integrated Disaster Risk Management approach is vital.

National perspective

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) highlights the vulnerability of Guyana to disaster risks, particularly natural disasters due to the geo-topography of Guyana. The strategy states “The topography of Guyana renders it vulnerable to natural risks”. Further, the country’s key investments are located in low-lying areas and are protected by intricate systems of sea defenses. Frequent and uncontrolled breaches due to unanticipated high tides adversely affect sugar, rice and other agricultural production. Additionally, unfavorable weather patterns such as intense and prolong rainfall and drought affect agricultural production. These risks negatively impact the country’s growth and poverty reduction targets.

The Guyana Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) emphasizes the linkage between Climate Change and induced flooding.  The LCDS identifies floods as one of the main adaptation challenges for Guyana and as a consequence one of its priority areas for action.  The LCDS highlights Flood Management as an important aspect of Climate Change Adaptation based on eco-system services. Elements of Flood Management measures can provide useful essentials which can be incorporated into a National Integrated Risk Management Strategy.

Disaster Risk Management Initiatives Implemented in Guyana

Several Disaster Risk Management (DRM) initiatives are being implemented especially since after the January 2005 floods. Together with its many stakeholders the Civil Defence Commission, the national disaster management organization in Guyana is responsible for the development of non-structural mechanisms including the development of plans, policies, protocols and standard operating procedures.

Some of the systems developed include a National Multi-hazard Preparedness and Response Plan, National Flood Preparedness and Response Plan, National Early Warning Systems Protocol, Damage Assessment and Needs Analysis Plan, Policy and Framework, Environmental Management Plan, Health Sector Emergency and Management Plan, and a Disaster Risk Management Policy. The development systems were financed by the Government of Guyana and through grants provided by the United Nation Development Programme, Pan-American Health Organization/World Health Organization, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Further, there are simultaneous structural measures being implemented to reduce the impact of flooding in Guyana including the construction of canals, improvement of sea defense structures, and the restoration of mangrove along the coast in an effort to protect it from erosion which is caused by sea level rise and storm surges. According to the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority, drainage and irrigation infrastructure in Guyana is more than 150 years old and caters for only 1.5 inches within a 24-hour period. The authority has been upgrading its infrastructure to cater for 2.5 inches and above rainfall. The economic cost of these activities is extremely high, the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority has budgeted over 7.8 billion dollars for drainage and irrigation works to reduce the impact of flooding in preparation for the rainy season in 2012 (NDIA, 2012).

The Conservancy Adaptation Project (CAP) is another key investment funded by the World Bank at a cost of US$5m geared to increasing the discharge capacity and enhanced water level management of the East Demerara Water Conservancy to reduce the impact of flooding of Guyana’s Low Coastal Plain (World Bank Website, retrieved, November 28, 2012). Linked to this is a further investment by the Government in the sum of US$15m to put in place adaptive structural measures to reduce the impact of flooding which occurs annually particularly in the Mahaica, Mahaicony and Abary areas on the East Coast of Demerara (Guyana Chronicles, March 27, 2012. Retrieved November 28, 2012).  Finally, there is the mangrove restoration project which is a more cost effective natural sea defense mechanism funded by the Government of Guyana and the European Union at a cost of 4.165 Million Euros. This is an alternative to the construction of manmade sea defense structure the cost of which runs to approximately US$5 million per one km of Guyana’s 360 km of sea defenses.

Despite many important disaster management initiatives undertaken in Guyana over the past years, an adequate level of preparedness, mitigation and policy support are required to address risk reduction planning and programs. In view of the experiences and lessons learnt during the management of various hazards and disasters, there is the need for a comprehensive approach which emphasizes proactive and preventive strategies in addressing disaster risks.

Key Factors and Policy Changes that are Necessary for an Integrated Disaster Risk Management System in Guyana
The following factors will facilitate a strong vibrant mechanism that will enhance the preparedness, preventive and mitigation approaches for reducing disaster risks in Guyana.

  • Defining the roles and responsibilities of local government and departments with respect to Disaster Risk Management and Reduction.
  • Setting out the objectives of the Disaster Management Continuum.
  • Elucidating the relationship between Disaster Risk Management and Development.
  • Ensuring the funding for Disaster Risk Management is sufficient, streamlined and efficient.
  • Setting out objectives of adequate capacity to deal with various disasters in a more inclusive manner.
  • Undertaking a series of critical, phased changes and capacity development initiatives.
  • Strengthening the institutional and legal framework that streamlines processes for effective and efficient disaster risk management in the country.
  • Recognition of the risks of Climate Change and its likelihood of exacerbating existing hazards in disasters is less predictable and the importance of devising measures to help the citizens of Guyana to adjust through climate change adaptations efforts including disaster risk management is a fundamental.
  • Promoting an increased national level disaster awareness and culture of safety and capacity building for disaster risk management at all levels.
  • Ensuring strong coordination by various stakeholders to address disaster risk management in a comprehensive manner through fostering partnership among government, United Nations Organizations, international/regional civil society organizations, public-private partnerships.
  • Promoting linkages between DRM and development for vulnerability reduction and sustainable development.
  • Establishment of Trust Fund for DRM for undertaking risk mitigation activities.

In order to bring about a paradigm shift from relief centric approach to disaster risk management, efforts should be made to mainstream DRM measures into developmental plans and programs by enlisting cooperation among various stakeholders. The success of DRM requires sufficient funding and budgetary allocations. There are several sources of funding, which   include government funding from the consolidated fund, private sector funding as well as agency funding. The national strategies should therefore support measures and initiatives with regard to decision making and coordination regarding funding and budgetary allocations for DRM.
Political commitment is one of the primary factors which will guide implementation. Implementation should be supported by clearly articulated plans, projects, actions and resources. These and other implementation tools should be supported by policies and guiding principles. A critical area to support implementation will be the legal and regulatory framework. These frameworks should be designed to be definite, robust and dynamic so as to enable the effective implementation of DRM actions and initiatives.

Integrated Disaster Risk Management represents a new journey in management policy, planning and programming in Guyana. It is an instrument that hopes to build the overarching structure within which specific actions need to be taken by various institutions and individuals at all levels that are clearly outlined, resourced and implemented.

The system will endeavor to capture, in essence an enabling environment which heralds the onset of a different approach in dealing with disasters that have, in the past taken a heavy toll of lives and properties and crippled the economic base of communities. It also illustrates the realization of the fact that disasters not only cause a setback to economic and developmental growth, but also seriously affect the national security environment.

The implementation will result in an improved quality of life for all Guyanese, through practices, strategies, plans, actions, initiatives and interventions which are proactive and holistic and involve a multi-hazard oriented approach. This strategy will ensure the involvement and participation of all stakeholders, directed at reducing vulnerability and exposures to hazards, supporting the building of resilience to disasters and ensuring sustained effective response mechanisms.

The Government has received valuable contributions both technical and economic from the many donor agencies and sincerely appreciates their continued support and confidence in the initiatives that are being implemented.  The firm relationship which has developed within CDEMA and which allows Guyana to fine-tune the several policies necessary on disaster management and risk reduction that we should focus on.  The valuable role of the CDEMA Coordinating Unit and in particular that of the Executive Director Mr Collymore, must be recognized in the support of Guyana’s work in this area.


Speech: Elisabeth Harper, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Guyana
Source: Avia Ustonny, Panos
Blog: http://cdmconference.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/guyanas-road-to-resilience/ 

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