The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season began on June 1 and will run until November 30, with meteorologists predicting another above-normal season. Preparations for this season have taken place in the daunting context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its severe socioeconomic repercussions, necessitating a reimagining of hurricane preparedness and resilience-building efforts to reach a large number of people in a short amount of time. Mobilizing community engagement is especially critical to develop a successful disaster preparedness and resilience strategy.
On May 31, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), with the support of the World Bank, the European Union and Canada, launched an initiative to promote disaster resilience and raise awareness in an engaging and dynamic manner, with a particular emphasis on reaching out to youth. This initiative is known as “Disaster Fighters” and brings together several well-known current and former cricketers, musical talent from across the Caribbean, and other influential figures to promote awareness on preparedness and survival skills for disaster hazards including hurricanes, volcanoes, and COVID-19.
According to Elizabeth Riley, Executive Director (acting) of CDEMA: “We wanted to use an innovative, inclusive approach to ensure that communities are empowered with the necessary plans, information and tools to tackle the disaster impacts that we as a region have been facing.”
Tahseen Sayed, World Bank Country Director for the Caribbean, added: “The past year has been very challenging for the Caribbean. Although much of the region has managed the health effects of the pandemic through early actions, the socioeconomic impacts have been severe. It is more important than ever this year for Caribbean countries and people to be well-prepared for hurricane season. We are pleased to support this innovative new campaign from CDEMA that aims to help communities protect themselves and their livelihoods.”
Echoing these sentiments, European Union Ambassador in Barbados Malgorzata Wasilewska highlighted: “The reality of the past year has highlighted both the fragility of our region and the fortitude of its people. Indeed, it is only through unity that we can make it through a pandemic or a natural disaster. The EU is therefore pleased to join with Canada, the World Bank, CDEMA, and the Disaster Fighters in this novel collaborative approach to disaster resilience.”
The Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica, Emina Tudakovic also noted: “Climate change means that natural disasters are increasingly inevitable, but we can be more resilient through education, smart building practices and being ready to act in an emergency. Through preparation, we can save lives, lessen the loss of property, speed recovery and re-building as well as preserve the beauty of our islands”.
The Disaster Fighters initiative kicked off its awareness campaign with a music video that was broadcast on social media channels including Tik Tok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Punctuated by a catchy and upbeat tune, the music video’s lyrics include preparedness tips such as having a ready flashlight, trimming trees to prevent the damage they can cause during a storm, checking on the children and elderly in emergency situations, verifying where the nearest emergency shelter is, and checking on the latest news. The main message repeated throughout the music video encourages people to take the initiative and “make a plan” before disaster strikes.
Disaster Fighters also has an innovative fundraising component to support CDEMA and local national emergency agencies. Items such as cricket balls, bats, and jerseys autographed by participating cricketers and musicians will be auctioned, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will be made available for purchase with their proceeds going to emergency organizations. According to Helen Hai, the head of Binance Charity and one of the initiative’s donors: “NFTs offer a new and exciting opportunity to support such causes, raise money and have real impact through the medium of digital art. It’s empowering creators, athletes and musicians alike to convert their skill into social impact.”
The Disaster Fighters initiative represents an innovative approach to building community-level disaster resilience, while showcasing Caribbean artists and voices. The initiative also aims to help national emergency management organizations grow their reach and audiences especially on social media, improving their efforts at reaching out to communities and informing them of disaster hazards.
The importance of providing such support has been reinforced at a time when Caribbean countries have had to cope with several crises. Partnership, knowledge and information sharing have proven to be key to communities in strengthening their disaster risk reduction efforts.
The Disaster Fighters initiative is financed by the Africa Caribbean Pacific – European Union Natural Disaster Risk Reduction (ACP-EU NDRR) Program and the Canada Caribbean Resilience Facility, both of which are managed by the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. The initiative is also financed by Binance Charity. The campaign was developed by the risk communications firm Pacifico.
Critical prevention messages and materials can be found on the initiative’s website: http://www.disaster-fighters.org.