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Study shows data storage, sharing issues hamper disaster mitigation efforts

Published:Friday | June 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM


INSUFFICIENT STORAGE and exchange of critical information are hampering some Caribbean territories from adequately reducing disaster risk.

That is a finding from a needs assessment done on 10 Caribbean governments regarding how they handle disaster risk and where the gaps were in information.

The findings were presented by Dr David Smith, who was giving the overview at the launch of the Caribbean Disaster Risk Atlas Project at the University of the West Indies, Mona, on Monday. The assessment was part of the Atlas Project.

Dr Smith, who was principal investigator for the project, noted that the study showed the available data on disasters was not always in digital form, and sometimes was not on the right scale or format.

"(For example) precipitation records for major events are difficult to come by. Typically, what happens is they collect information during the early part of the major event (like a hurricane) and then, at some point, your rain gauge gets washed out or your wind gauge gets blown away," he said. Some data is often not current, and much is in paper form, making it more vulnerable to get lost or destroyed.

"There is also the concern that planning advice is often ignored due to political expediency and that buildings, including shelters, are sometimes placed in vulnerable locations."

inadequate staff

He also said inadequate numbers of staff dedicated to disaster reduction was also an issue. Manpower issues aside, Dr Smith suggested introducing a culture of data and information sharing.

"One of the biggest barriers we found was not necessarily the cost of data, but the reluctance of government agencies to share, either with each other, and definitely not with governments outside their own. And there's reluctance to share even with academia. That needs to be reduced."

need for reliable data

The Atlas arose from the need for reliable data to enhance decision-making to reduce the serious economic and social impacts caused by natural hazards in the region. Dr Smith noted that, in 2008, almost 38 per cent of Caribbean Development Bank loans went to repairing natural hazards damage.

"If we bring it to Jamaica, if you look at what happened over the decade starting in 2001, US$ 1.4 to 1.7 billion was spent or lost, because of damage and loss because of natural hazards. That is not an insignificant amount of money. On average, that's JA$14 billion a year," he said.

Dr Smith noted that "the capital budget for health, education, social security, energy, physical planning and environmental protection put together did not amount to what we lose annually due to natural hazards and disasters." He noted that problems of poverty and debt burden decrease our options to better the system, and admitted that government mechanisms are often overwhelmed by the event.

"But if we have good information and we act on good information, we can reduce the damage and loss from natural hazards."