Forced evacuation not the answer, says Jackson
The forced evacuation of residents who construct their homes in 'no-build' zones whenever a natural disaster threatens is being labelled a Band-aid remedy for a much more complex socio-economic problem and, therefore, not a practical solution.
Ronald Jackson, executive director at the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), said yesterday that cases where persons build homes in areas deemed unsafe at the best of times, and made worse during natural disasters, have been allowed to mushroom across the Caribbean.
Jackson was reacting to comments from Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie, who said during a press conference earlier this week that the Government was moving to prosecute persons who refused to heed evacuation warnings during periods of emergency.
McKenzie said the Government would shortly be seeking to implement aspects of the Disaster Risk Management Act to allow for such prosecutions.
But Jackson said the law currently allows for punishment in cases where persons build on river banks and in gullies and that he believed that efforts should be geared in that direction.
"I think by and large one of the weaknesses across the Caribbean is the failure of development control and enforcement. So before we even begin to talk about persons evacuating, we have to start doing better with our development-planning process across the Caribbean," Jackson told The Gleaner yesterday.
Noting that the State does have a significant role to play in protecting such people from themselves, the CDEMA executive director insisted that Government must equip itself to adequately take care of those it seeks to protect.
He said: "Evacuation has to be taken in the context of what the State is capable of and prepared to do. If it is that you are going to go the route of forced evacuation, it implies that the State will also be taking some responsibility on to itself, and that has to be measured around the ability to deliver. It's a conversation we have to get into to understand the dimension."
He added: "This would include addressing major issues such as security and stability in a comprehensive way for persons of all ages, including and especially those with physical and intellectual disabilities, if there is to be any success in disaster management.
"It is a national conversation and a national decision that needs to be taken but which must be taken within the context of having all the facts on hand to determine the wherewithal to deliver. In our context, one of the major challenges facing national disaster management offices is that people sometimes don't evacuate to emergency shelters because governments are unable to provide basic support - a cot, a blanket - and we have to fix that," he said.
"That is why disaster risk management is not a job only for the ODPEM (Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management), CDEMA (etc). It is a business that requires ... a government approach, where security and safety are paramount," he said.