Assistant Secretary General Speech


September 12, 2016 - Bridgetown, Barbados

Distinguished panelists, Secretary Guerrero, OAS National Representatives, OAS and EU professionals who worked as a team to make this a forum for capacity building, knowledge sharing, networking and interaction among colleagues.

• Coordination of Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Assistance has been a priority for the OAS and its Member States since the early sixties. While the Americas and the OAS have shifted their efforts to a proactive approach which advocates disaster prevention and mitigation, the OAS and its Member States recognize the importance of working towards higher gains in coordination and collaboration for Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Assistance.

• Despite the current and future efforts of States to reduce vulnerability and to prevent and mitigate disasters, there is the certainty that population growth, urbanization patterns, and the increased exposure of assets, productive systems and livelihoods that come with economic growth will inevitably result in higher risk for disasters, and the impact to our most vulnerable cities and rural areas will continue to be felt.

• Between 2009 and 2012, the General Secretariat of the OAS supported an Inter-American Dialogue around coordination mechanisms for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. The Permanent Council and the Inter-American Council for Integral Development, CIDI, jointly evaluated the performance of existing mechanisms and prepared a diagnostic –with inputs from more than 35 experts from Member States and agencies of the Inter-American and UN Systems, as well as specialized international organizations. This served as the basis for the formulation and adoption by the General Assembly in 2012 of the ‘Inter-American Plan for Disaster Prevention and Response and the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance’.

• The findings of the work of the Joint Working Group of the Permanent Council and CIDI are as current today as they were then. The observed fatigue of the national disaster preparedness and response systems, caused by the increasing frequency and magnitude of disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean, has resulted in a higher demand for international humanitarian assistance. We also observe an increased number of humanitarian actors and intra-regional assistance, which along with a capacity shortfall in needs assessment and disaster management of the affected states have resulted in more complex emergencies.

• At a recent conference that our General Secretariat co-organized with the Inter-American Defense Board, in Washington DC, participants and experts agreed that disaster relief and humanitarian assistance will continue to be dominated by bilateral efforts. Bilateral assistance is faster, driven by geopolitical aspirations of those that provide it, and makes multilateral assistance comparatively more challenging. This therefore demands close coordination among agencies and states providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief so as to avoid the additional burden that unsolicited and unhelpful efforts at assistance can place on affected states and communities.

• At the General Secretariat of the OAS we are convinced that we have the pertinent instruments to provide the needed set of rules for enhancing bilateral disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, fostering coordination and collaboration. The Inter-American Convention to Facilitate Disaster Assistance, adopted by the OAS General Assembly in 1991, provides a unique instrument, the only regional legally binding instrument in the world in matters of disaster assistance. I am proud to report that we are working jointly with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, CDEMA, and partners in the region, to assist CARICOM Member States in ratifying and adhering to the Convention by incorporating existing regional instruments and mechanisms –which did not exist at the time of the adoption of the Convention, and specific provisions to address the particular conditions of the CARICOM member States. They all share common development challenges, including geographic and economic isolation, limited resources, environmental fragility, high costs of transportation and energy, and vulnerability to climate change and natural hazards. According to the 2015 Global Assessment Report prepared by the secretariat of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, UNISDR, climate change in the Caribbean Basin will contribute an additional US$1.4 billion to the expected average annual losses from cyclone wind damage alone.

• The Inter-American Convention stresses the sovereign right and obligation of the affected State to control and direct humanitarian assistance and manage its own disaster. It stipulates all the provisions required for a coordinated and collaborative action, including issues of custom and migration, transit countries, humanitarian workers, transport and supplies; all issues that the international community has been advocating for during the last two decades.

• As our Secretary General Luis Almagro has reiterated on many occasions, we believe that the Inter-American Convention will provide the moral support to the existing regional mechanisms and instruments that have been developed in the context of CARICOM and CDEMA, and the Association of American States, ACS. It will further extend the geographic scope of these instruments and address particular conditions and requirements of the CARICOM Member States.

• The ratification of the Inter-American Convention by CARICOM Member States will provide an incentive for OAS Member States outside the CARICOM region, Permanent Observers and other States outside the Americas to ratify or adhere to it, advancing a coordinated action for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.

• Secretary General Luis Almagro and I are committed to continuing to work with our Member States and Permanent Observers in this effort. I invite GCRSP and the EU, its member states and partners, to consider adhering to the Inter-American Convention to Facilitate Disaster Assistance, in the process supporting our efforts in fostering its full ratification here in the CARICOM region, as well as in Central America and South America. In aspiring to fully integrated mechanisms for collaboration, I am pleased to extend the same invitation to all of the agencies represented on the panel in meeting the challenge of mitigating the potential of natural hazards and man-made disasters to wreak havoc in the Americas, and in forging enhanced partnerships for timely and appropriate responses.

• I thank you for your attention.