Regional Parliamentarian Retreat on Building Caribbean ResilienceNov 9, 2017
On the 8th and 9th of November 2017, the Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the United Nations System hosted a regional parliamentarian retreat on “Building Caribbean Resilience” at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port of Spain, Trinidad, Trinidad and Tobago.
Twenty-two Parliamentarians from fifteen countries and territories participated, including four legislators of countries affected by the recent devastation by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The Inter Parliamentary Liaison Unit of the Office of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago and United Nations agencies, led by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme, contributed to the retreat. Partners included the World Food Programme, the Pan American Health Organization, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction as well as the Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, the Association of Caribbean States and the Environment Management Authority of Trinidad and Tobago.
Over one and a half days, the retreat focused on three topics to deepen the knowledge of parliamentarians on Caribbean resilience against disasters and the policy strategy and guidelines necessary for building national and regional level resilience. Three workshops were held in the following subject areas: Food and Nutrition Security and Resilience; Health Security and Resilience; and Resilience Budgeting.
In the first workshop on “Food and Nutrition Security and Resilience”, panellists and participants shared experiences on the recent disasters and responses by individual countries as well as external agencies. Members of parliament from affected islands stressed the need to focus on building community resilience and fostering a community spirit, adding that “Resilience is a burden; if you do not feel resilient then you feel that you are doing something wrong. It is all well and good to talk about resilience but when everybody is in the same boat then who is going to help [you] to become resilient”.
Possible areas for action which emerged from the discussions included:
· The need to develop a seed bank in countries that fall outside of the hurricane belt to encourage food security;
· Prioritising the removal of barriers to land tenure to encourage farming as well as the enforcement of strict land-use planning and building codes that specify how to build for resilience and how to avoid building in vulnerable areas;
· The use of technology in sharing information as well as providing new ways in which food systems can be made more resilient, in addition to, consideration that traditional and indigenous knowledge can be utilised in disaster risk reduction; and
· The critical need for proper planning and enforcement at the regional, national and community levels to improve resilience in addition to, creating systems for encouraging communities that are empowered to temporarily sustain themselves post disaster.
This naturally fed into the second workshop on “Health Security and Resilience” which set the background that the Americas is the second most affected region by disasters in the world, after Asia, over the last ten years. Further, based on recent experiences with the severe impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Caribbean needs to build and sustain systems to ensure continuity of Governments and critical services before, during and after disasters. Topics ranged from defining health system resilience as the “ability to absorb disturbances and respond and recover with the timely provision of needed services” and the need to boost primary infrastructure to better cater to the needs of a population, to the protection of vulnerable persons during crises. There was consensus that often times, countries enter into international agreements and though “you hit a note, sweet music is not made” since the fundamental details of those agreements are not brought to the attention of Parliamentarians. The issue to be addressed was identified as “how then, can parliamentarians provide assistance if they are not even aware of these agreements?” The meeting noted the importance of tabling in Parliament, for the information of the legislative branch of the state, agreements that may be appear to be sector-specific in their commitments but which, in reality require holistic, multi-sector and legislative action for effective implementation.
Possible areas for action included:
· Prioritisation of legislation for emergency responses post-disaster with a view to reduction of risks of bureaucracy, corruption and political bias. The hope was expressed that this would address the situations which arise when, for example, “the hazards become a disaster, and there is little national coordination that the international community can support.”
· Reducing the vulnerability of societies to health risks at the local national, and international levels by addressing the social determinants of health across sectors, through a whole of government and whole of society approach, and engendering a culture of safety and disaster preparedness across different sectors of society.
· It was reiterated that there are differences in responses between men and women to disasters so that “if we do not understand vulnerabilities going into the disaster then how can we understand their vulnerabilities during and after the disaster”; and
· A shift in focus in the mentality of society to remember the psycho-social impact not only on the victim but the families of victims as well as the faces behind the countless emergency responders.
The third workshop “Resilience Budgeting” the plenary session, summarised the Sendai Framework and its applicability to Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean. The Plenary highlighted that countries should do more to manage risks and risk exposure by implementing measures such as community vulnerability databases and loss and damage databases. Some territories shared the view that Caribbean countries experience the brunt of natural disasters due to the actions of countries with larger carbon footprints and wondered whether there could be “some mechanism to make them pay”.
The discussion on the Sendai Framework generated viewpoints which were developed furthered in the final workshop, “Resilience Budgeting”. This session reflected on the question of budget mechanisms and how the funding of disaster risk reduction programmes could be adequately redirected and targeted, noting that “too often there is blanket government spending that ultimately benefits the highest earners the most”. Some recommendations on “building back better” through budgeting included:
· Planning and budgeting for resilience while addressing the peculiar vulnerabilities of Caribbean SIDS;
· “Save first, spend after”, advising countries to set a maximum percentage for which governments can utilise to run the country’s affairs or the suggestion that borrowing should not exceed a percentage of revenue;
· Identifying new sources of funding including the private sector; and
· Ensuring countries have disaster insurance coverage which is viewed favourably by donors and financiers.
At the end of the workshops, the attendees were separated into three groups and asked to provide feedback on their take-aways and points from the retreat which are as follows.
· The group comprising representatives from Trinidad and Tobago stated that they intended to utilise all the tools of parliament to begin formal discussion on resilience, disaster risk reduction and budgeting.
· All attendees from the other Caribbean nations formed the second group. One of this group’s major focus was the idea of strengthening community level discussion and strengthening community-led resilience initiatives to assist communities to bounce back more quickly following a natural disaster.
· The third group comprised the international development partners who indicated that a knowledge management and communication platform could be useful in determining where resources exist in addition to the expertise to best place those resources.
· A proposal was made for a follow-up conference in 2018 with a focus on gender and resilience as well as to cover all the territories of the Caribbean region.
A question coming out of the retreat was, “how do we educate our parliamentarians in a unified manner to go forward?” The meeting recalled the opening statement of Dr Lystra Fletcher-Paul on behalf of the entire United Nations System, whose words delivered a powerful statement about the images after the recent disasters, “It does not matter whether you are from the ruling party or the opposition, Prime Minister or the CEO of a Private sector firm, whether you have a PhD or are a drop out. Everyone and anyone can be affected. Parliamentarians and law makers, have an important role to play in ensuring that we rise above the politics and get behind and support the people so that no one is left behind.”
Some important quotes that summarises the retreat outcomes:
“It is important to target members of parliament since they have a wide span of reach. MPs have a constituency so they are on the ground and can influence their communities and they know the vulnerabilities of their community. MPs in Trinidad and Tobago have an oversight function through operation of Joint Select Committees to make recommendations to various agencies; MPs operate in plenary of parliament to advocate positions; and this enables MPs to help on various levels. Hope this is the start of, not a conversation, but of a movement because movement has action in it.” – TT Speaker of the House Hon. Bridgid Annisette-George
“When you respond in a crisis [it is crucial] that you have an agreed normative framework to address vulnerable groups.” – UN RC Richard Blewitt
“If we band together our ideas as a united front it is much easier to now receive the aid that we need and now put into place the systems that have been talked about throughout this entire conference” – BVI Hon. Melvin Turnbull
“Important point that came through is that implementation was not only the function of government but that the community has a responsibility and people have a responsibility to do things for themselves.” – FAO Dr Lystra Fletcher-Paul