Opening Remarks

Dr. Lystra Fletcher-Paul

FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator, UN System


Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the United Nations family, I would like to warmly welcome you to Trinidad and Tobago and to this Parliamentarians retreat entitled, “Building Caribbean Resilience”. I would also like to congratulate and thank the Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for this important initiative.

The retreat is timely as it comes on the heels of one of the most active hurricane seasons in recorded history of the Caribbean and it is not over yet! Two category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, just weeks apart, left nothing but devastation in their wake as they moved through the northern Caribbean. Entire sectors were destroyed in a matter of a few hours, posing serious threats to food security, and human health and leaving leaders scrambling to find much needed resources to help rebuild, while meeting the immediate relief needs of their citizens.

The aim of the retreat is to inform parliamentarians in the region of resilience planning and strategy and to help lawmakers to help your countries and to be more prepared to assist your Caribbean neighbours in rebuilding after climate disasters. It was conceived as a means of supporting and providing you with a forum for discussion and a snapshot of resilience and emergency response to natural disasters and crises in food and nutrition security, health security and building resilience.

Ladies and gentlemen, in 2015, four major global agreements were adopted by member countries of the United Nations – the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for financing to development, the sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The Sendai Framework is the outcome of negotiations coordinated by the UN International Office for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). It emphasises the importance of moving from managing disasters to managing disaster risk if we are to achieve substantial reductions in disaster mortality, numbers of people affected and economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure by 2030. It also recognizes the importance of regional platforms such as this, as a key mechanism of collaboration to analysing risk trends and determining priorities for action to effectively implement and monitor the Sendai Framework. In addition, it uses an inclusive approach in compliance with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The UN has recognized the key role that parliamentarians can and do play in the successful adoption and implementation of the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction as well as other global agreements. Challenges with food security, human health and financing can affect many other sectors both directly and indirectly.

Agriculture plays an important role, not only in food and nutrition security but also in rural employment. With an annual food import bill of USD 4 billion, the efforts of Caribbean governments to promote local food production are undermined by natural disasters. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that with the climate change, the occurrence of more intense and frequent events such as the ones we have experiences this year, is likely to be the new normal. It is therefore, important to build resilience in the agriculture sector.

In terms of the health sector, every year disasters claim the lives of millions of people and destroy critical health infrastructure resulting in disruption of basic services and limited or no access to health care for many.

Increased and accelerated investment and research in sustainable agriculture and food systems as well as improved health care systems are proven accelerators of sustainable development that help countries realize multiple SDGs and result in improved resilience in our countries.

The need for good planning, strong collaboration and decisive action is evident. The nations of this region, having small land masses and small, open economies, increasingly face significant threats and struggle to address the challenges adequately, due to lack of necessary resources. With most countries being classified as upper middle to high income, their access to concessional financing is substantially reduced. We therefore need to review the parameters used for classification and emphasize our vulnerabilities because it only takes one catastrophic event to change a country’s status.

As parliamentarians, you play an important role in law making, advocacy and holding government accountable for the commitments they have adopted at the international level, as well as ensuring that the global agenda is promoted and implemented at the national level. The advantages of implementing these global policies at the national level are numerous; apart from assisting with building resilience they can assist with overall national development, improving local economies, creating jobs, and opportunities for attracting resources for and investment in resilience building.

We, in the United Nations, as one of the organizations responsible for driving the global processes on disaster risk management and resilience building, have been working hard to collect data and information on disasters, assess gaps and challenges for building resilience and addressing capacity constraints in many of our countries. However, it is evident that we have a long way to go. To ensure success in resilience building we need cooperation from national governments, policies, legislation and strong collaboration and partnerships both within national government frameworks as well as with external governments.

In closing I would like to share with you my experience from the visit I made last week to Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica. After seeing Dominica I must admit I was shocked and shaken - and that was 7 weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the country. FAO’s Emergency Focal Point, when he arrived a few days after Maria hit Dominica, said the only word he could use to describe the scene “Armageddon”. I recall images in the local press, of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and a few years earlier of PM Mitchell and the GG of Grenada after Hurricane Ivan – dressed in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops looking shell shocked. Those images sent a powerful message that when disasters such as Hurricanes strike, they do not discriminate. It does not matter whether you are from the ruling party or the opposition, whether you are the Prime Minister or the CEO of a Private sector firm, whether you have a PhD or are a drop out; or whether you are young or old. Everyone and anyone can be affected. So you, as 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. Because everyone is important and our lives are all intertwined – not only at the national level, but also at the regional level. The total destruction of the agriculture sector of Dominica has affected the availability of food in Antigua and Barbuda and a number of neighbouring islands.

In addition, the ability of the region to respond and assist its neighbours affects the rate at which they can get back on their feet and resume their lives.

We urge you to share your experiences and views so that we can learn from one another.

Ladies and gentlemen the onus is on every one of us to do better, plan better and build better to preserve and protect our natural resources, livelihoods and health. Let us work together in partnership to support the people of this region to build a more resilient Caribbean.

Thank you


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