Small Island States and Disaster Risk Reduction


Hurricanes Irma and Maria dealt a catastrophic blow to the Eastern Caribbean in September 2017.  One of the Islands most impacted was Dominica. So, it is not surprising that the country would like to get back to normal as fast as possible. However, one thing that the stakeholders should keep in mind is that the process will be fraught with failure if disaster risk reduction is not a part of the desire to "build back better".

 According to UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), building back better means reducing vulnerabilities and, needs to include disaster risk reduction (DRR). UNISDR believes that all sectors of the society must be involved;  it must be a  community development approach.  Government, non-governmental organizations and the professional and private sector must all be involved.  In addition, for a DRR to succeed it must not be top-down;   bottom-up, local and community-based approaches are the most effective. It is unclear whether many Small island States are able to function under this model.

With reference to Dominica, this is one country that will certainly experience difficulties.  Dominica survives under a system of weak governance where the public sector are unwilling or unable to assume their role and responsibilities to protect the rights of the people and to function in and efficient and effective manner. According to the UN, such weak governance is a driver of disaster risk and can be linked to increased poverty, inequality, and  poorly planned urban development.  The Organization sees the success in Disaster Risk Reduction, not as a stand alone sector, but an initiative that should involve all sectors. So, as Dominica carves a path to building back better, they should keep in mind a couple strategies put forward by the UNISDR


1. Avoid construction of new risks

In the haste to rebuild, there's is a chance that greater risk can be created for society. For example,  in 2015 after Tropical storm Erika devastated one village, citizens had to be relocated to temporary homes where they remained for about 2 years only to have those homes smashed again by Hurricane Maria. How is that possible? Why were these evacuees placed in homes that were not hurricane resistant  and left there for 2 years?

2. Address pre-existing risks

The population of the capital city Roseau and the greater Roseau area continues to swell. It has about half of the population of the country. Many of the people moving to the city are living in poorly planned developments. This in turn puts a stress on water and waste management in the cities, drains are not maintained which makes flooding much more prevalent. The government continues to concentrate more and more services in the Capital city.
Decentralization of a few services could take people out of the urban core and bring them into less crowded areas.  For example, in the north of of the island there is a seaport that could have been developed to take the strain off the port in the capital city.  By concentrating all essential services in one area, this makes the country more prone to a situation where they could have all of those services nonfunctional at the same time.

Those are just a couple of strategies that Dominica should keep in mind as it forges its way to building back better.  In addition, small island states need to include DRR as part of their sustainable development plan, because recurrent disasters delay development. The risk in one particular year is uninfluenced by whatever happened in the preceding year. For example, no one can predict whether Dominica may be impacted by another Category 5 storm in the upcoming 2018 hurricane season.

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