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Ban Ki-Moon's warning not to be taken lightly!

Thursday, May 16, 2013    

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UNITED Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a warning to the world's business community yesterday that, we believe, is most pertinent to Jamaica and indeed our sister Caribbean states.

According to Mr Ban, economic losses linked to disasters are "out of control" and will continue to escalate unless disaster risk management becomes a core part of business investment strategies.

The UN secretary general made the observation in his address at the launch of what was described as a groundbreaking new report from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

The report, we are told, is based on three important new data sets — reviews of national disaster loss data bases in 40 countries, survey responses from 1,300 SMEs in disaster-prone locations in the Americas, and a review of risk management in 14 major multinational brands.

In his address, Secretary General Ban argued that the losses due to disasters can only be reduced in partnership with the private sector, including investment banks and insurance companies.

"The private sector is responsible for 70 per cent to 85 per cent of all investment worldwide in new buildings, industry and small-to-medium size enterprises," he was quoted as saying. "Markets have placed greater value on short-term returns than on sustainability and resilience. Reducing your investment's exposure to disaster risk is not a cost but an opportunity to make that investment more attractive in the longterm."

While we share the concern of the secretary general and encourage the private sector to heed his advice, we feel that regional governments, particularly Jamaica's, should take keen interest in what he said and act on it aggressively.

For every year, during the hurricane season, this country is forced to find tens of millions of dollars to repair damage and cover losses due to adverse weather conditions.

It's not as if Jamaica is swimming in cash. As such, the monies that we use to recover from flooding and the other effects of storms could have been much better used to strengthen infrastructure to minimise, or more importantly, prevent damage.

To be fair to the authorities, they have, in recent years, done much better in the area of preventative measures. However, the fact that sections of the island still experience heavy flooding that destroys infrastructure, in circumstances where that could have been prevented, suggests that more effort needs to be employed in ensuring the safety of life and property.

Recall the tales of disaster in the eastern end of the island last year when late-season hurricane Sandy unleashed her fury here.

That kind of experience should not be the norm, because we all know, every year, that the floods will come. How we prepare ourselves for them, in the face of rapid urbanisation, is what will determine whether we continue to fork out scarce cash for the kind of heavy damage that can be prevented with proper planning and implementation.

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