January 10, 2014
A regional, coordinated approach should be taken

Fri Jan 10, 2014

Since the unusually heavy rains at Christmas caused significant damage in the three Windward Islands of Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent, each of the countries affected has embarked on its own relief and rehabilitation efforts. Given their own resource limitations, all have found it necessary to solicit foreign assistance to supplement national contributions.{{more}}

In doing so however, there is the risk of competition for external resources, for all three countries have basically the same contacts externally, belong to the same regional and international organisations and share the same diplomatic links. Three requests are therefore likely to arrive at one desk for assistance for a common disaster. With the purse strings tightening all around the world and with other humanitarian needs seeming to be on a much greater scale than ours, we are in danger of scrambling for the crumbs.

It is therefore heartening to hear of the proposed regional initiative on behalf of the OECS, headed by Antigua’s Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, for a pooling of the efforts from the three affected islands. This does not of course, contradict or delay national initiatives or ongoing programmes. What it will do is to coordinate these on a regional scale.

Specifically, mention has been made of the holding of a donors’ conference in the next three months or so to bring together potential contributors to the rehabilitation programme in a coordinated response. Donors’ conferences have been held in many places and for several causes. In our own region, Haiti and Grenada, after hurricane Ivan, have had those experiences. They are experiences from which we must learn as we embark on organising our own.

At such conferences, pledges of aid and assistance flow readily. Fulfilling them, however, is not so easy. Being able to convert verbal commitments into practical actions has, time and again, proven to be far more difficult than obtaining a pledge in an international forum. Such conversion depends on one’s level of preparation for the Conference as well as the degree of persistent follow-up. We cannot be satisfied with mere pledges.

A wealth of international experience will tell us that, whether at the United Nations, Organisation of American States, Commonwealth or what have you, actions have not matched words where either humanitarian assistance or development aid is concerned. Ask Haiti if one wants to be sure. Climate change, the “war” on poverty, campaigns in the fields of health or hunger, have all gone through the phase of lofty promises, followed by failure to let deeds match words and have suffered as a result.

It means therefore that we must prepare thoroughly for any donors conference. That includes setting clear objectives, having effective coordination between the affected countries and their emergency organisations, working out proper mechanisms for follow-up, which of necessity must involve our respective diplomatic missions and, ensuring that disaster mitigation and measures to address the effects of climate change are part of the package.

The OECS has been pioneering the way in regional cooperation in the Caribbean. It is therefore well placed to embark on this latest venture. Yet we must be aware of the shortcomings in our national response mechanisms, and even as we move to a higher plane, try to address these national weaknesses to prevent them becoming a regional sore.