The Disaster Risk Reduction Centre emerged out of an initiative to mobilize the University’s expertise to assist Caribbean countries devastated by hurricanes during 2004. The Centre has its genesis in the UWI Hurricane Relief Task Force. When Vice Chancellor, Professor E. Nigel Harris assumed office on October 1, 2004—two weeks after Hurricane Ivan’s passage through the Caribbean—one of his first actions was to assemble a Hurricane Relief Task Force. Staff from the three campuses of the University was canvassed to determine their area of expertise in the context of disaster management and mitigation and their willingness to participate in the work of the Task Force. The UWI was therefore able to respond rapidly and effectively, by lending technical assistance to the worst affected island, Grenada. With so much at stake, the Task Force was conceived as a database of all Disaster Management technical expertise resident at The UWI. The database, currently comprising more than 100 names, spans the gamut of relevant expertise, from Earth Science and Agriculture through Health and Housing to Telecommunications and Waste Management.
In response to this long-recognised need for multidisciplinary training, research and technical expertise in disaster management and risk reduction in Caribbean communities, The University of the West Indies (UWI) saw it necessary to establish the Disaster Risk Reduction Centre. The Centre will complement the work of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDEMA), the umbrella organisation comprising sixteen national disaster agencies in the region. The establishment of the Centre provides an institutional mechanism for harnessing this capacity at the UWI and using it to develop and implement training, research, advisory and outreach services to enhance disaster mitigation and management in the Caribbean region. The University of the West Indies is fully equipped with a virtual library, the Caribbean Disaster Information Network (CARDIN) that provides linkages with Caribbean and International disaster organizations.
This development was welcomed by those present at the launch of the Disaster Risk Reduction Centre on July 26, 2006, including Coordinator of CDERA, Mr. Jeremy Collymore, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Representative in Jamaica, Mr. Juan Carlos Espinola and Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Wayne Hunte. Vice Chancellor Harris declared that this would become yet another UWI Centre of Excellence that responds to the specific needs of its stakeholders by providing the training and certification required by the Caribbean Disaster Management community.
The University recognizes that the issue of disaster management and mitigation goes far beyond the annual challenge of the hurricane season. The Caribbean region also has to contend with volcanic eruptions (such as the continuing eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano in Montserrat), the probability of a ‘Kick-em-Jenny’ eruption generating tsunamis in the Caribbean Sea, incidents of earthquakes and frequent severe flooding events across the region.
Furthermore, the potential of natural disasters to retard Caribbean development goes beyond the direct costs of damage to the local environment, communities and infrastructure. Tourism, as the single largest contributor to gross domestic product in the Caribbean, is extremely vulnerable to such events and the mere threat of natural hazards’ impacts can seriously constrain tourism development.
The focus of the Disaster Risk Reduction Centre will therefore be both preventive—in the provision of technical, advisory and consultancy services to mitigate the risks of disasters—and palliative, in the rapid mobilisation of human resource capacity within the University, for in situ assistance and project implementation both before and after disasters. Initial funding for the Centre was provided by the UNDP, with matching funds from Caribbean governments. However, there is urgent need for ongoing assistance to enable the Centre to develop and deliver graduate programmes in Disaster Mitigation and Management.
Modified from an article by Cecile R. Clayton, The UWI Pelican Magazine Issue 3
|Professor Nigel Harris (right), Vice Chancellor of The University of the West Indies signing an agreement with UNDP Resident Representative, Juan Carlos Espinola for the funding of the Disaster Risk Reduction Centre in July 2006. |