Assistant Secretary General Speech


January 29, 2019 - Montego Bay,

The Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism of Jamaica

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

A pleasant Good Afternoon,

I am pleased to give opening remarks at the launch of the OAS Project on Building Disaster Resilience of Tourism Enterprises in the Caribbean.

It is well known that the Caribbean is among the most tourism-dependent regions in the world. At the same time, there is no other region whose travel and tourism industry is as vulnerable to disasters as the Caribbean. It is undeniable that climate change presents an existential threat to small island developing states and low lying coastal areas, which include the countries of the Caribbean. Ironically, the same natural characteristics, such as geographic location that make the Caribbean a desirable tourism destination, those characteristics also place these countries in the direct path of tropical cyclones, and sometimes near tectonic plates, all of which contribute to their vulnerability to disasters, such as floods, droughts, storms, hurricanes, landslides and earthquakes.

In a continuation of a trend of extreme weather events observed over the past two decades, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was among the busiest on record, producing 18 tropical depressions, all but one of which intensified into tropical storms. In all cases, the tourism sector in several destinations was severely affected.

The region's vulnerability to disasters is further exacerbated by the openness of national economies; the small size of populations and internal markets in many countries; adverse physiographic characteristics; a limited range of natural resources; and the presence of critical social and economic infrastructure along the coast.

Not only does the interplay of these factors create a cycle of deepening social, economic and environmental vulnerability to disasters, but they also constrain the efforts of the region to build its resilience to disasters, forcing affected countries to incur additional debt to finance post-disaster reconstruction with declining national income and foreign exchange to service this debt. In addition, other related sectors such as agriculture are also impacted by natural disasters leading to depletion in crops or delay in harvest seasons, which have a direct impact on economic growth.

Recognizing these realities, political and business leaders in the region have determined that building economic, social and environmental resilience is the only option. In the wake of the damage suffered during the 2017 hurricane season, which included the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria that impacted Dominica and Puerto Rico, and Hurricane Irma which wreaked havoc on the island of Barbuda, regional leaders have committed to design and implement a resilience building program. Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica have embarked on a “Build Back Better” program that seeks to ensure that social and economic infrastructure are designed and built to standards that can withstand earthquakes and hurricanes.

At a Roundtable on Caribbean Tourism Business Recovery organized by the OAS Secretariat for Integral Development of the OAS on November 6, 2017, participants representing a cross-section of tourism interests in the region cited among the main long-term needs of the region, the need for tourism-related disaster preparedness and crisis management/communications plans as well as methodologies to follow before and after a disaster. The thinking was, as Jamaica’s Minister Bartlett keeps saying, not only do we need to survive these natural disasters, we also need to thrive after them.

Further, the Caribbean Climate Smart Accelerator - a coalition of Governments and major private sector actors – has been launched to among other things, address and fast-track mechanisms to build low-carbon and resilient infrastructure including nature-based approaches, to better withstand future extreme weather events and to strengthen the capacity of Caribbean countries and key regional institutions to plan for long-term resilience and climate smart growth strategies.

Against this background, I am proud of the efforts of the OAS in the establishment and launch of this project which aims to assist small tourism enterprises in the Caribbean to overcome the various challenges that affect the ability of Governments and businesses alike to continue their business operations during and after catastrophic events in the Caribbean. This dual-level approach is necessary, because in addition to challenges at the level of industries, business continuity can also be negatively impacted by multiple factors at the national level, such as weaknesses in planning and development control, inadequate infrastructure, improper waste management, and deficiencies in water resources management, among others. Details about this project will shortly be provided by Mr. Cletus Springer, the Director of the Department of Sustainable Development at the OAS.

Before closing these brief remarks, I seize this opportunity to convey deepest appreciation to the Government of the United States of America for making available the sum of US$500,000 to support the implementation.

I would also like to recognize the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for Integral Development of the OAS Ms. Kim Osborne for her commitment to these critical undertakings.

I wish to thank the agencies that have agreed to support the OAS in the execution of this project, notably The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA), the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA). We also look forward to working closely with the Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre.