US Gov't looking to provide support in building disaster resilience

Friday, December 07, 2018

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THE United States (US) Government is looking to strengthen partnership with Jamaica in building the country's disaster resilience.

Representatives of the US Embassy in Kingston, the US Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) called on Local Government and Community Development Minister Desmond McKenzie at his Hagley Park Road offices on Wednesday, where discussions focused on the island's vulnerability to natural disasters, and areas in which the USAID can help in disaster preparedness.

This is in keeping with the agency's shift in focus from global challenges to more country-centric partnerships.

The matter of US support for Jamaica's response to disasters that occur in other Caribbean countries, including dealing with the death toll from such events, was also discussed.

Deputy assistant administrator of USAID, Christopher Maloney, said that disaster resilience is among areas of risk to the country's development identified by the USAID in its 'Self-Reliance Country Road Map' for Jamaica.

The agency has produced road maps for all countries classified by the World Bank as low, lower-middle or upper-middle income as of July 2018.

The road maps plot countries' positions on the self-reliance spectrum based on 17 metrics and serve as a guide for development dialogue between the USAID and stakeholders such as governments, implementing partners and civil society.

Mr Maloney said Jamaica scored high in the metrics of open and accountable governance and government effectiveness. Other areas of vulnerability identified include safety and security, and poverty inequality.

The USAID official explained that “part of what we are doing is beginning a conversation with the Government of Jamaica that, given this advanced level of self-reliance, given these areas of vulnerability, we need to start thinking differently about transitioning our relationship to something that is more reflective of Jamaica's level of self-reliance, but also making sure that we are focusing on the areas to take Jamaica to the next level”.

Minister McKenzie told the delegation that the Administration takes the threat of disasters “very seriously”.

He expressed gratitude to the US Government for its support in disaster preparedness and response, noting that further assistance will be sought.

“Shelters are a major problem vital equipment to respond is also a major issue, and our ability to bounce back in short order,” he noted.

“We have done quite a lot through the new Building Bill to ensure there is compliance in building standards. We have passed the Disaster Risk Bill, and we are looking to strengthen that to give the authorities the power to use certain measures during the time of disaster for areas that we consider to be vulnerable,” he added.

Chargé d'Affaires at the US Embassy Eric Khant, in his remarks, noted the importance of engaging the private sector in disaster-risk management.

He said that “some level of private-sector involvement already exists but not in a holistic way, and we have to find a way to get their involvement more coherent. This is something that we need to work on”.

Minister McKenzie, in agreeing with Khant, noted that “85 per cent of the economy in rural Jamaica, especially on the north coast, is private sector-driven”.

“Some of the services we will require prior to (a disaster) and after the event are invested in the hands of the private sector. It is critical that we bring them to the table, and we have been doing that because we recognise their role,” he added.

For her part, director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs in the US Department of State, Katherine Duffy Dueholm, said she is “excited” about the future of Jamaica-US relations.

“We are very aware of the partnership we have enjoyed with Jamaica for a long time, and we want to think about ways that we can continue to deepen and to elevate that relationship.

“We see a lot of different spaces that we can begin to work more than we have in the past, and we are excited about that. Jamaica is growing and changing so much; how do we help our relationship evolve to fit the kind of country Jamaica is becoming? This is one step in that process as we look into how we cooperate through our assistance agency as well as through the broader US Government,” she said.

— JIS

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