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Good building can prevent Hurricane damage

DEVASTATION: The effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria were brutal for Caribbean

HURRICANES IRMA and Maria provided a wake-up call for the Caribbean region and a “strong signal of change” in the dynamics of our regional experience of hurricanes.

Our greater awareness and preparedness for these storms have been enabled by a better understanding of these natural events and from readily available satellite imagery and prediction models.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), created by the Caribbean Community in 2005, has been the force of change.

It drives the regional preparedness planning, training and humanitarian coordination; with centres throughout the region including Belize, Guyana and Suriname.

I have seen significant decline in the loss of life through the work of CDEMA in improving communication, planning and response. I am proud that this solution and level of change has come from within the region itself.

However, as we celebrate the transformative work of CDEMA, the loss of property during hurricane events and impact on the economy is of grave concern.

There is scant regard for the building codes that are designed to safeguard property and lives and a lack of integration of hazard assessments in development plans and masterplans and “self- build” plans.

This attitude slows down regional development as it neutralises our gains through the work of CDEMA. The Caribbean is the second-most hazard-prone region in the world and over the last decade the region suffered annual reported losses estimated at $3 billion (£2.3bn).


However, disasters associated with natural hazards are in part self-generated. Each natural disaster leaves in its wake an overwhelming volume of evidence of how poor planning, land use and investment decisions contribute to vulnerability and provide evidence of the consequent risk of further disasters.

We Caribbean people can be our own worst enemies. When hurricanes strike, and in the aftermath of damage and losses, people woefully recall missed opportunities to have built properly in accordance with the building codes and regulations and not cut corners.

When people decide to build, they wish to optimise on the finances avail- able, and so create structures that in their opinion give them a better return on the investment. Not very often is building resilience considered as a priority.

This predicament is not restricted to self-builders but also international investors and governments. The number of people impacted by storm surge, flood water, landslides and high winds, though the loss of homes, business assets, critical infrastructure (power, water, telecommunications) and transport networks has not decreased.

For the most part, damage is avoidable by applying building codes, investing in hazard assessments and incorporating science, technology and engineering into future planning and development decisions.

Elizabeth Mullings-Smith has 30 years international experience in environment management and engineering, working on projects in countries such as Jamaica, Montserrat, Antigua & Barbuda. She is the managing director at Maya Blue Ltd, which specialises in sustainable development planning and climate resilience.

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