Our Readers' Opinions
February 4, 2014

NEMO strengthens culture of disaster preparedness

Tue Feb 04, 2013

By Maxwell Haywood

In 2012, there were 357 natural disasters that were recorded globally. Natural disasters killed 9, 655 people and 124.5 million people were victims. Natural disasters also caused economic damage amounting to US $157 billion. It is critical to note that the Americas (including the Caribbean, Latin America, the United States, and Canada) suffered the most damage in 2012 amounting to 65.7% of global disaster damage.{{more}}

These numbers represent a plea to human beings for us to become very resilient in these times of frequently destructive natural disasters. St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), like many other nations, has become vigilant and has established institutions to empower people to prevent, prepare for and respond effectively to natural disaster events. NEMO is our nation’s first line of action in national disaster management.

The disaster that hit the nation on Christmas Eve in 2013 was unprecedented in the lifetime of those of us alive. The human suffering has been unbearable, especially for those people who have been directly experiencing it. The high human and financial costs demand a strong focus on issues such as disaster risks reduction and to make it more prominent in the national development policy processes. As the nation focuses on its immediate response to the disaster, it must also keep its sight on the task ahead to continue to sharpen and increase its capacity in disaster management. NEMO is set to accomplish this task.

By now in SVG, NEMO has become a household name. NEMO is the acronym for National Emergency Management Organization. It is grounded in the National Emergency and Disaster Management Act, 2006. NEMO is the main organization in SVG responsible for disaster preparedness and response. Recently, due to the natural disaster of December 2013, the responsibilities of NEMO have become the topic of many conversations and scrutiny. There is much more to NEMO that needs to be part of this conversation. The aim should be to make NEMO stronger rather than weaker by condemning it and pouring scorn on it.

NEMO is one of the most critically needed institutions in SVG. In essence, NEMO is a national development institution with profound responsibilities for the sustainable development of the nation. NEMO at its best could empower Vincentians in their quest for human security and economic growth and development.

NEMO has several mechanisms of human agency built into its structure, which give it a development edge. These mechanisms have the potential to transform our way of life in terms of shielding us from the destructive nature of disasters and emergencies by protecting and developing our natural, social, human, and physical infrastructure resources.

These mechanisms include: the National Emergency Council; National Emergency Executive Committee; Sub-committees; and district disaster management committees. In addition, there are the Disaster Management Policy Review, annual reports, and the National Disaster Management Plan; and the National Emergency Operations Centre, Shelters and Inspectors.

Now imagine an SVG where these mechanisms are in full operation. First, it provides for comprehensive and collective security. Most of the major sectors of the nation are included such as the Government/public sector, the business sector, and the civil society sector. In addition, there are representatives of major social groups such as youth, and workers. Maybe the Government should consider widening and deepening the composition of NEMO by including cooperatives, women, and the Vincentian diaspora. These three entities are critically important in disaster management processes in SVG. Political organizations are also absent, but consideration should also be given to their inclusion in NEMO in order to build political capital in the national disaster management processes.

Second, local communities stand to benefit from being empowered to address disaster related risks. The district disaster management committees have responsibility to “develop and coordinate an effective disaster management plan for the district and regularly review and assess the plan.” These processes, led by the district committees, must include the people in the villages that comprise the districts. The villagers must become the movers and shakers in the work of the district disaster management committees. This sort of empowerment is fundamental to effective and efficient disaster preparedness and response.

Third, NEMO provides us with the space to develop a clear view of the requirements of disaster management. The Disaster Management Policy Review, annual reports, and the National Disaster Management Plan could serve as empowering documents by providing knowledge of the state of the nation’s resources in the natural environment, and society including physical infrastructure. They also would highlight the actions to be taken to prevent, prepare for and respond to disasters. Therein rests the national empowering aspects of NEMO. This is the reason that the National Emergency and Disaster Management Act, 2006 must be popularized throughout the nation. Everyone must become aware of its provisions. The popularization of this Act will serve to increase and sustain the goodwill of Vincentians at home in SVG and abroad, as was displayed after the December floods.

The people in SVG, the diaspora, and the Caribbean region have responded well. We must now rebuild and put more emphasis on doing it in a more sustainable way. Moreover, NEMO should emerge as a stronger organization from this disaster which hit the nation in December 2013.