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May 20, 2014

Regional workshop discusses challenges in disaster preparedness

One of the key issues being discussed is the challenge facing the region when it comes to adequate response to natural disasters. Head of Programs and Operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is Jan Gelfand. The headquarters is based in Panama. Gelfand says that the reality is that in this region, a hurricane normally has adverse effects on several CARICOM member states before it passes through the Caribbean. And while the humanitarian organization works as support to governments, there must be cooperation from everyone within the society including the private and public sector.

 

Jan Gelfand, Head of Programs and Operations, IFRC

Jan Gelfand

“One has to understand that the Red Cross, Red Crescent is a movement so we all work towards the same—we have our seven principles—so it guides the work that we do. When we are talking about contingency planning specifically for hurricanes, we are in a region of the world that is one of the most active and the most prone to hurricanes; amongst other disasters.  We don’t look at disasters, to begin with, in isolation. We look at it in terms of human development because if you are having flooding, where do most of the people that don’t have resources normally live? They live along the river where nobody else wants to live; where it is the only place that they can live so they are the people that are most affected. So the challenges that are in many places and small states that we have in this region and throughout the Caribbean are issues like climate change which takes disasters or crisis and they exacerbates them simply because there is more events, higher frequency and higher intensity. So it translates, if you have floods, into health issues, into this is the Americas unfortunately forty-one of the fifty more violent cities in the world are in the Americas; the Caribbean has the second highest rate of HIV in the world. So we try to look at these things all together; these are challenges.”

 

Lily Bowman

Lily Bowman, Director General, Belize Red Cross

“As the head of operations in Belize—because we do have a president who leads the whole organization—I would like to see the greater opportunities for us to bring volunteers together, to recruit volunteers. But not only volunteers in general, but we need to get skilled people involved. When a disaster strikes, it doesn’t discriminate; it affects you if you are in the area. So I would like to see a change in mindset across the board in Belize where we have professional, skilled people coming to volunteers in organizations such as the Red Cross.”

 

Jan Gelfand

“It is a matter of making sure that policies are in place; that the government has legislation in place for example that allow people to come in without barriers….visas, how fast can you get a visa. We are working with government so that when we bring materials in, can we get them through Customs in a quick way so that people are not waiting for a blanket because they are stuck at the port. So all those kinds of issues are challenges that people have.”

 

Over one hundred and eighty-nine national Red Cross, Red Crescent societies are active throughout the world. While the Red Cross is a part of civil society, it is an auxiliary to governments as stipulated by the Geneva Conventions ratified by respective governments. 

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