(18 March 2010) "Recent natural catastrophes such as hurricanes and earthquakes have only aggravated an already critical financial and economic scenario in a number of Caribbean nations. Disaster assessment is vital in the process of building back better," said ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena in Grenada.
In a speech during the 23rd Session of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee (CDCC) taking place this week in St. George's, Bárcena highlighted ECLAC's decades-long history of disaster assessment in the region, the most recent of which is the one currently underway in Haiti.
"Much of ECLAC's methodology for these assessments was actually developed in the Caribbean," noted Bárcena.
One of the panels in the CDCC meeting focused on the situation of Haiti and the preliminary findings of a socio-economic and environmental impact assessment of damages and requirements after the earthquake that struck the country on January 12.
According to the draft report "Sectorial Assessment of Damages, Losses and Requirements", the proportion of Haitians living in conditions of poverty after the earthquake is similar to levels recorded almost a decade ago, when it reached over 70% of the population.
Over 222,000 people lost their lives and 869 remain unaccounted for as a result of the earthquake. Almost 311,000 people were injured and 1.5 million - nearly 15% of the total population- are now homeless. Total damages are estimated at more than US$ 7.8 billion, equivalent to over 120% of Haiti's GDP in 2009.
The report, presented in the Dominican Republic at a preparatory meeting for a donor's conference for Haiti to be held on March 31 in New York, seeks to provide prospective lines and reconstruction scenarios based on official information currently available, and is not yet a complete assessment of the total damage and losses of the catastrophe.
It was prepared by the Government of Haiti with the technical support of ECLAC, the Inter American Development Bank, the World Bank, the United Nations System and the European Commission.
"These tragic events are an opportunity to reinforce the notion of disaster risk reduction, especially among Caribbean nations, which exist in a multi-hazard environment. Socioeconomic and environmental assessment of disasters is a powerful tool that can also be useful in looking at potential impacts of climate change," said Bárcena.
Small island developing States are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to the recent economic meltdown and natural disasters, both of which have hit the Caribbean particularly hard over the past couple of years.
The CDCC meeting is examining the vulnerabilities of Caribbean Small Island Developing States and how they are addressed, as well as recent trends and emerging issues in the subregion. The CDCC is a permanent subsidiary body of ECLAC that seeks to promote cooperation among Caribbean nations.
Preliminary estimates by ECLAC suggest that Caribbean economies as a whole declined by 2.1% in 2009, more than the regional average of 1.7%. Meanwhile, the constraints of mounting public debt and low international reserves have limited government actions to stimulate their economies in the face of falling export earnings.
The average public debt in CARICOM member nations was 76.5% of GDP last year, but in countries such as Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Saint Kitts and Nevis, the debt to GDP ratio was above 100%.
Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to grow 4.3% this year, although growth will be slower in economies with smaller domestic markets and more dependent on the United States market for exports. The English-speaking Caribbean and Suriname, for example, are expected to grow only 1.8%, slower than the Dominican Republic (3.5%) and Cuba (3%).
The scenario of rising unemployment -already high before the global crisis-, financial constraints, high public debt, declining tourist arrivals and lower commodity exports is further compounded by the effects of international drug trafficking, the spread of HIV/AIDS and the challenges of climate change, added Bárcena.
"Small island developing States in the Caribbean continue to be under severe fiscal strain and need resources to buffer the impact of the global economic meltdown and natural disasters. ECLAC is ready to continue supporting regional integration and national development aspirations in the Caribbean," stated Bárcena.
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