UN: Global Warming Brings Busy Year for Disaster Response
It was a busy year for natural disasters. According to an article in the London Guardian, fourteen UN Disaster Reponse teams were dispatched worldwide in 2007. Nine of these were deployed in Latin America and the Carribean. By way of comparison, the previous record was in 1998, when eight teams were sent out after Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America and Hurricane George came through the Carribean.
The increase in the number of countries dealing with natural disasters is alarming, and reflects the need for more international assistance. The United Nations attributes this increase to global warming, which spiked the occurence of natural disasters and is exacerbated by deforestation, urban mismanagement, etc.
70% of the teams deployed in the Western Hemisphere responded to floods and hurricanes, and few countries in the region are not prone to one or the other. Flooding and/or hurricane damage took place in Mexico, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Honduras, Belize, and of course, Haiti. Peru was the exception in that it bore the brunt of a severe 8.0 magnitude earthquake.
Haiti chronically suffers from flooding and hurricanes. The hurricanes will come each year and, if trends continue, we can expect them to be more frequent and severe. Emergency Resonse and Development cannot be separated. One hurricane can make the difference between positive and negative economic growth. Floods can destroy infrastructure on a massive scale.
For example, Tropical Storm Jeanne (not a hurricane!) devasted Gonaives - the hospital was destroyed, countless homes were lost, and roads made useless. Without being prepared for, and being able to respond to the floods and hurricanes, development will continued to be rolled back in Haiti.
How to move forward? We've long argued that there can be no prepardeness without a plan. A plan needs to be assembled by the Haitian government with buy in from civil society and the international community, including NGOs, the Red Cross, and relevant UN stakeholders such as MINUSTAH, the United Nations Development Program, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The plan should clearly set roles as well as a timeline and targets for improvement. It is an opportunity to establish technical assistance and resource needs for all kep players. Being on the same island, the Dominican Republic struggles with these issues as well and consultations could be useful.
The plan should build early warning systems that tap the power of radio throughout Haiti. The more notice people receive the better, especially in coastal areas. Improving infrastructure will ensure that people can get out quickly and there is something left when they return.
The flooding will simply not be controlled without environmental rehabilitation. With time, reforestation could be one of our best weapons in controlling mudslide and floods. We've discussed previously mechanisms for starting a national program - what is less important to us is the method but the end result. The process will take years, so should begin as soon as possible.
There is much to be done and this article suggests time is short. It is our hope that the Haitian government will advance both disaster preparedness/response and environmental rehabilitation in 2008. As always, we welcome your thoughts.