Impacts from natural disasters are on the rise in the Caribbean. Across the region, hurricanes, droughts, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions pose a growing threat to small island economies and the lives of millions.

In 2017 alone, two Category 5 hurricanes – Irma and Maria – hit the region killing many, devastating housing and infrastructure, toppling tourism, and leaving some islands completely cut off from the world. Today, most countries in the region are still rebuilding their homes, economies and livelihoods. However, factors like climate change - which exacerbates the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events - and unregulated urbanization add layers of complexity to an already difficult position. As Saturday, June 1 marked the beginning of hurricane season, the need to coordinate across governments, communities, and international organizations to make smart investments in resilience is not just a necessity: it’s a matter of survival.

Understanding Risk Caribbean – A melting pot of regional coordination on risk identification

On May 27 to 31, the World Bank’s Caribbean Disaster Risk Management team and the Global Facility for Disaster Recovery and Reduction (GFDRR), in partnership with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the European Union (EU), hosted The Understanding Risk (UR) Conference in Barbados to identify disaster risk issues and address solutions across the region. Spanning five days, the forum gathered over 500 delegates from more than 20 Caribbean countries with sessions and live demonstrations done by institutions and organizations such as the University of the West Indies, Harvard University, NASA, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, to name a few. The Conference was co-financed by the EU-funded Africa, Caribbean and Pacific -EU (ACP-EU) Natural Disaster Risk Reduction Program, managed by GFDRR.  

"Natural disasters in the Caribbean region have become increasingly intense in the face of climate change,” said Anna Wellenstein, Director of Strategy and Operations for the World Bank's Social, Urban, Rural, and Resilience Global Practice. “Now more than ever, there is an urgency to support island nation states in their effort to build a more resilient future. The World Bank is committed to this long-term partnership of bringing the best global know how to the region."

Participants attending one of the breakout sessions at UR Caribbean.

Participants attending one of the breakout sessions at UR Caribbean.

Regional programs launched to strengthen disaster risk management and mainstream resilience

Over the five days, three regional programs were launched - two financed by the European Union and one financed by the Government of Canada - which will focus on supporting Caribbean countries to plan for long-term resilience and climate-smart growth strategies.                                                              

The EU-funded Caribbean Regional Resilience Building Facility ($31.6 million; 27.7 million) will support 15 Caribbean countries by providing technical assistance to mainstream resilience, leveraging investments to reduce vulnerability, and expanding financial protection against disasters.

The second EU-financed Program ($3.4 million; 3 million) focuses on providing technical assistance for disaster risk financing and insurance in Caribbean Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs). Funding will specifically be used to support OCTs in assessing their financial exposure to disasters, provide an overview of financial protection tools available for the OCT context, assess the feasibility of participating in insurance mechanisms, and facilitate the sharing of knowledge among OCTs. This Technical Assistance Program is being carried out jointly with the Caribbean OCTs’ Resilience, Sustainable Energy and Marine Biodiversity Programme - ReSEMBiD (36.7 million), implemented by Expertise France, which objective is to strengthen environmentally sustainable economic development in Caribbean OCTs.

Christian Leffler, Deputy ­Secretary General of the European Union’s External Action Service, stated during the Opening Ceremony that the European Commission is committed to supporting the Caribbean and that in the past year and a half, the EU has pledged €300 million ($341 million) for resilience building.

Additionally, Canada and the World Bank will launch a new facility to support disaster risk management efforts in the Caribbean focused on accelerating implementation of reconstruction projects and overall resilience-building efforts across the Caribbean. The US$15.2 million Canada Caribbean Resilience Facility (CRF) is aimed at boosting capacity in 9 Caribbean countries to achieve more effective and coordinated, gender-informed, climate-resilient preparedness, recovery, and public financial management practices. The CRF will be managed at the World Bank by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).

Crisket match

UR Caribbean organized a "Crisket” match (Cricket + Risk) to raise public awareness of disaster risk across the region.

Harnessing creativity to promote resilient solutions

In addition to a variety of launches, technical trainings and sessions, the conference offered a unique way to better understand the resilience agenda through community engagement initiatives spanning from the arts to sports. Starting with the Opening Ceremony, UR Caribbean collaborated with the Barbados Museum and Historical Society to add “risk layers” to some of the standing exhibits, resulting in one minute video installations that augmented the museum’s collection to consider the effects of natural hazards. Art was woven throughout the entire week’s events through a series of “data-garden” installations – including tableaus, palm trees, bush tea plots, and benches- scattered across the University of West Indies Cave Hill campus, and were made to represent risk themes like seasonal rain forecasts, disasters and financing over time, and even fractural hurricanes.

To close the week, UR teamed up with prominent players and figures from the West Indies Cricket team as well as actors in the DRM space to host a “cRISKet” match (Cricket + Risk) to raise public awareness of disaster risk across the region the day before the official beginning of hurricane season. Metaphors were used draw connections between the game and how it relates to natural disasters. For example, think of the ball as a hurricane, spinning as it advances towards the vulnerable wicket, threatening to hurt those who are not well protected. Through the game, the players anticipate the direction of the ball and its likely impact well before it hits, just like an early warning system for hurricanes. Players from the region that participated included Tino Best, James Adams, Sylvester Athanaze, Ridley Jacobs, Donald Barthley (Zorol), Nixon McLean, Michael Matthews, Sherwin Campbell, Resheleel Griffith, Kyle Mayers, Charlene Taitt, Dwayne Smith, Nikita Miller, Philo Wallace and more. All proceeds from the match went to CDEMA’s Regional Emergency Assistance Fund.

The Understanding Risk Caribbean Conference provided a unique opportunity to bring together disaster risk management practitioners with governments, urban planners, insurance industry stakeholders, private sector organizations, academia, multilateral development banks, civil society organizations, and other regional partners to collectively take action to address and reduce disaster risk. It will lay the foundation for the decisions and actions to be taken during the 11th Caribbean Conference on Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) hosted by CDEMA that will take place towards the end of the year. 

“The event is timely as it comes at a juncture when the Caribbean region is currently engaged in articulating a Resilience Pathway in the face of the known challenges, threats and uncertainties associated with Climate Change,” said Ronald Jackson, Executive Director, CDEMA. “CDEMA sees the event as an opportunity to continue its efforts in the engagement of the Caribbean Community for a more focused investment in the reduction of vulnerability exposure, through a better understanding of risk and through intentional action aimed at tackling the underlying risk drivers.”

For more information on specific sessions, please visit the event page.

About the Social, Urban, Rural, and Resilience Global Practice

The Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice (GSURR) houses the World Bank’s core DRM specialists and leads engagement with client countries on disaster risk and resilience. The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), a global partnership managed by the World Bank and supported by 33 countries and 11 international institutions, acts as a financing and technical body that supports DRM across the World Bank Group.

About Understanding Risk (UR) Caribbean

UR Caribbean is organized by the World Bank’s Caribbean Disaster Risk Management team and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), in partnership with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the European Union (EU), and hosted by the Government of Barbados. The Conference was co-financed by the EU-funded Africa, Caribbean and Pacific -EU (ACP-EU) Natural Disaster Risk Reduction Program, managed by GFDRR.

Understanding Risk (UR) is an open and global community of over 9,000 experts and practitioners interested and active in the creation, communication and use of disaster risk information. UR community members share knowledge and experience, collaborate, and discuss innovation and best practice in disaster risk assessment and includes nearly 180 countries across 2,200+ organizations.