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Sound advice from Dr Barbara Carby

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Easily, Dr Barbara Carby is one of the most respected Caribbean voices on disaster risk reduction and management.

Indeed, her years of contribution to that field have resulted in her being invested with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander by the Jamaican Government, and Knight of the National Order of Merit by the Government of France.

Dr Carby — who gave many years of service to Jamaica at the helm of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) — has also served the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and has held a number of positions in the United Nations in her area of expertise.

So when Dr Carby speaks, we tend to listen.

In a most timely column published in this newspaper last week, Dr Carby, who is now director of The University of the West Indies' Disaster Risk Reduction Centre, discussed the issue of the approaching Atlantic Hurricane Season against the backdrop of the current COVID-19 pandemic in this region.

Noting that Colorado State University had, in April, forecast an above normal hurricane season, Dr Carby correctly pointed out that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will negatively affect response and recovery should countries in this region suffer a weather-related disaster.

Her advice that we must now start planning for the very real possibility of managing two major events concurrently is indeed sound.

Of course, our hope is that no State in this region, and even wider afield, will be faced with that problem. However, we know from our lifelong experience that weather events can be cruel, deadly even, and as such it behoves us to prepare.

Disaster management agencies in the region, and especially ODPEM here in Jamaica, are already quite adept at preparing for and responding to the hurricane season, which will begin in just over a week's time.

Basically, Dr Carby shared a checklist of the things that need to be done to cope with any natural disaster, and her emphasis on the precautions that will need to be taken in this COVID-19 environment are most informative.

Space does not allow us to go through them all, however, we feel a duty to highlight her point that great care must be taken in the acceptance of humanitarian assistance, if the need arises and if, indeed, it is offered, given that other countries are battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Caricom, led by CDEMA, Dr Carby suggests, must decide whether movement of humanitarian assistance into and within the region is to be allowed and under what conditions.

She also recommended the establishment of common procedures across all CDEMA participating states, and that appropriate guidance must be communicated to the humanitarian community well before any event so that they are aware of the procedures.

Additionally, Dr Carby said there are reports of the novel coronavirus surviving on surfaces for several days, thus posing the question of how incoming humanitarian supplies will be safely managed.

“Scientists can advise on the level of risk posed so that appropriate plans for isolation can be put in place if needed,” she said.

We couldn't agree with her more.

Our hope is that the regional authorities are already putting in place the necessary protocols to effectively respond to such eventualities.