By Neil Armstrong
Jamaicans in Canada are welcoming a new disaster response initiative that could become a template for Diasporas across the world.
At the invitation of the Jamaican government, former Canadian Prime Minister John N. Turner is the honorary chair and patron of the Jamaican Canadian Initiative for Disaster Resilience and Response (JCIDRR), which was launched on December 14 at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
“Your compassion and care for the peoples of the Caribbean region has been widely recognized and appreciated over your many years of public service, but it has never been more appreciated than in this important initiative,” said Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in a letter to Turner.
The former Canadian prime minister said he has an affinity for Jamaica that dates back for more than 60 years ago. “Jamaica is one of the world’s greatest treasures,” said Turner, noting that his support for the initiative is unwavering.
“Preparedness, being prepared always trumps reaction.”
JCIDRR will support Jamaica’s objectives to develop its capacity for disaster resilience and response to minimize the effects of natural disasters in Jamaica.
It is the result of a one-day conference in November 2011, organized by the consulate general, entitled: “Jamaica 50 & Beyond: Towards A Developed Nation” which was attended by Ronald Jackson, the director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).
“Jamaica has similar disaster vulnerabilities to Haiti given its location in the hurricane alley, its geography, its geology and its heavy dependence on coastal resources.
The Haiti earthquake of 2010 exposed many of the challenges that are often experienced by Less Developed Countries (LDCs), which depend heavily on external aide to recover after a catastrophe.
Nearly two years later Haiti has not fully realized the pledged funding and a significant portion of the reconstruction work is yet to begin,” said Seth George Ramocan, Jamaica’s consul general to Toronto.
He said the traditional approach has been for the Diaspora to contribute primarily to emergency response or early recovery operations. “The current situation however, requires a proactive approach for engagement of the Jamaican Diaspora and its overseas partners to support national initiatives for disaster resilience and response,” he said.
‘I think that to be reactive is shortsighted, to be proactive takes a further step. In the case of a disaster when we have a Canadian response in place the turnover time and the help that will be received by Jamaica will be that much faster,” said Samantha Mahfood, executive director of Food for the Poor Canada.
“I think it’s very significant for the Canadian Jamaican community to get together to try to build on its own experiences of assisting in building capacity in Jamaica, both in a capacity to respond to emergencies and the capacity to help with the recovery effort and to fit that into the overall matter of resilience building,” said Franklin McDonald, a former head of the ODPEM.
“It has the potential to save many lives. It is a response to a different approach: we have to be prepared.
We can pull resources together in areas such as building codes, conservation in terms of mitigation of disasters and also to bring greater levels of support to the current ODPEM,” said Howard Shearer who wants to see the model replicated in USA and the UK.
JCIDRR seeks to harness human, financial and technical resources in Canada to assist Jamaica in developing and effecting its national disaster mitigation strategy through research, public education, and the use of best practices and to encourage a culture of disaster resilience in Jamaica.
It will collaborate with the ODPEM to achieve its goal. A task force has been appointed by the consul general to map out the structure, plan, and modus operandi for achieving the organization’s objective.
The inaugural members are: Howard Shearer, chairman of the task force, who is also the chairman of Hitachi Canada Power Systems Ltd; Franklin McDonald, a visiting scholar and lecturer at York University, Toronto; Celia Lindo Butler, a crown assistant attorney; deputy chief of police Peter Sloly; Marc Kealey, principal at K&A Inc. of Canada, a public policy and project management firm; and Bishop Dr. Audley James of Revivaltime Tabernacle.