Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Matt 24 watch, 98: Haiti and regional Capacity-building for Disaster Cycle Management, thus sustainable rebuilding and redevelopment

Two weeks after the devastating quake hit Haiti, the search and rescue teams have now closed off active search for trapped survivors (havign rescued some 120+ altogether . . . ), and the focus of efforts has now shifted to stabilisation as makeshift tent cities emerge, and as aid agencies scramble to develop more organised temporary shelters.

And, in response to the wisely circulated Sir Hilary Beckles article on UWI's intents to promote redevelopment in Haiti, Dr Horatio Morgan (a Jamaican financial economist resident in Canada) has posed a different (and in part corrective) viewpoint that emphasises local aspects of Haiti's conundrum.

In so doing, he concludes:
The real and persistent challenges that Haiti faces cannot be overlooked in order simply, to rebut some clearly absurd comments by a misguided televangelist (Pat Robertson). Moreover, we also have to move beyond any conscious or unconscious appeal to the now bankrupt dependency school theories of the 20th century that conveniently attributed virtually all the blame to Western imperialist "forces", while letting small developing countries off the hook.

To be sure, Haiti's indebtedness to France is not a trivial matter; the degree of external interference in its internal affairs cannot be overlooked as well. However, to abstract from all the other blatantly notorious internal problems is really poor scholarship, at best; and at worse, plainly academic dishonesty. Furthermore, national pride is not really at stake when a people truly confront their internal problems for what they really are. In doing so, it becomes easier to isolate and address the external problems as well.
So, while there are (and will continue to be!) various views on the historical, social and spiritual significance of the Bois Caiman Boukman prayer and the vodunistic sacrifice of 1791, it is plainly also time to focus on longer term, broader issues, and to bear in mind local as well as international aspects of the problem.

For that, we note that one of the harsh realities exposed by the Haitian earthquake is just how vulnerable our buildings, infrastructure and community systems in the Caribbean are to a disaster.

Worse, in recent years, disaster after disaster has exposed consistently inadequate disaster cycle management, especially poor mitigation or adaptation measures, and a want of properly organised regional response capacity and associated pre-planned air- and/or sea- lift.

Above all, they expose the urgent regional need for a shift to truly sustainable development policies, strategies and paths.

So, (i) since disaster cycle management and related emergency/crisis management are key subsets of sustainable development, and (ii) since technical and managerial capacity are plainly critical issues, then (iii) it makes sense for us to now turn our focus to the enhancement of that capacity as the next step in responding to the long-term aspects of the Haiti crisis.

(In effect we are now looking at key aspects of disaster cycle/risk management [DCM] reformation and capacity building as a potential transformative, Nehemiah rebuilding project. [Cf. a Sierra Leone case on community rebuilding through targetted interventions, here.])

In step- by- step points (building on the previous discussion):

1 --> First, a key concept: a
disaster may be viewed as a massively destructive, suddenly onset (or, gradually emergent) event or set of circumstances in a given community.

2 --> Such an event -- whether a hurricane or an explosive volcanic eruption or a tsunami or an earthquake or a flood, or a fire at a vital petroleum refinery or an explosion in a factory spewing toxic fumes across a community, or whatever -- tends to overwhelm existing (or, remaining . . . ) capacity to cope or recover without significant external assistance; triggering a crisis.

3 --> Accordingly,
Disaster Cycle Management [DCM] capacity is a critical issue for sustainability of development in communities exposed to major potential disasters. We can usefully model this as requiring a four-phase cyclical management approach, across the portfolio of potential disasters that may affect a given community:
I] Preparation: Pre-disaster (a) research and hazard/ risk assessment, leading to (b) strategic and operational planning, organisation, training, “resourcing,” public awareness and education, towards (c) capacity building and (d) mitigation/risk reduction, and/or prevention (or adaptation);

II] Disaster, proper: The disaster event or situation, with associated dislocation and destruction, requiring: largely reactive crisis-style management of the chaos [based on prior preparedness, mobilisation and prompt, effective and accurate communication, command and control systems], and deployment of resources for search, rescue, evacuation and care of casualties (and recovery of victims);

III] Stabilisation: The rescue and/or recovery of casualties/victims, triage and treatment (or onward evacuation), damage assessment (thus, response), and overall stabilisation, as management moves to a more pro-active posture; and,

IV] Onward Rebuilding and Redevelopment: Long-term, strategically focussed rebuilding and redevelopment, tied to lessons learned, improved capacity and also leading to the start of the next management cycle (towards more adequate preparation for managing future disasters).
4 --> It is immediately evident that Phase I, Preparation, dominates phases II and III. So, if we are to handle a crisis reasonably well, and then rapidly stabilise the situation as a basis for onward recovery and transformation, we must have adequate capacity based on sound, scientifically informed preparations.

5 --> For the major natural hazards that have hit the Caribbean in recent years, there is no want of technical understanding of the basic dangers involved, or of such measures as help reduce their impact. For instance, as Bilham noted, it has been over 100 years since engineers have begun to understand how to build earthquake resistant structures (as opposed to 'quake-"proof" ones!).

6 --> For the all too frequent weather-related hazards such as hurricanes and floods, adequate warning systems are maintained by neighbouring great powers subject to the same hazards [and/or in support of major civil air routes passing through the region], so we have in effect free access to warnings [and to technical information on building hurricane resistant structures etc], though such warnings inherently tend to be of the order of hours or days.

7 --> Earthquakes are still effectively unpredictable, but the related tsunamis can be warned against if we continue to develop, implement and use a regional warning network. (However, warning times for tsunamis travelling across our region at jet plane speeds will be on the scale of 1/2 hr or less, to perhaps several hours. And, such a network has been under discussion and development since the mid 1990's. )

8 --> Volcanic hazards will usually give warning of a dangerous situation emerging [through a properly set up seismic network], and the geology of volcanic zones is highly characteristic, so we know that especially the "inner" arc of EC islands are subject to occasional explosive volcanic events; but it is not usually possible to predict the exact timing of a major destructive event.

9 --> All of these point in turn to the significance and value of organised disaster preparedness and emergency response organisations and networks [we will call them DCM Offices] across the region, as have emerged in recent years. Such offices have done good work, but are clearly of limited capacity, and face significant obstacles.

10 --> However, once such offices and networks exist, a further opportunity emerges that is not only relevant to the case in Haiti but to key possibilities for regional capacity-building for sustainable development and transformation.

11 --> For, by committing to the development of an open source, renewable energy focussed disaster response technical capacity,
DCM Offices can help jump-start significant capacity building for transition to truly sustainable development in the region:
a] Information and communication technologies [ICTs] are a critical issue for any C21 system. Commitment to the use of open source computer hardware and software [rooted in the Linux, Ubuntu, Android and OLPC- Sugar initiatives etc.] and standard interfacing systems such as the CAN bus (tied to the automotive industry) would create a generic base for a key strategic technology that is not locked into the currently predominant Wintel bloatware, high cost, non-transparent computing model. (It also encourages built-on value added efforts that would open up market space for the region's private sector.)

b] Adoption of the Grid Beam prototyping system would allow for deploying of an extremely flexible and easy to use development prototyping system (with metal grid beams) and for standardised easy-assembly sturdy temporary/flexible furniture (with wood beams; for required
joint connector bolts and nuts, cf. here).
[The system is ideal for engineering, student and do- it- yourself level design, prototyping and development; and for rapid assembly or adaptation of machinery, furniture, workstations etc. in disaster response situations. For instance, standard kits would allow for creating a system of knocked down transportable furniture, instrumentation and work station units that can equip rapidly set up first responder field bases and also could provide furnishings for temporary shelters or tents. (The gallery of examples here, and the recliner seat computer workstation here should give enough ideas to draw attention, spark interest, trigger adoption and suggest adaptations.)]
c] Adoption of key Open Source Ecology industrial technologies for heavy equipment, such as the LifeTrac and the underlying CADTrac, would allow our University Engineering Departments and development arms of DCM offices to prototype a standard heavy equipment system that would itself be transformative for not only first response and stabilisation technical capacity but also would open up a new path for our own regional capacity to develop and manufacture agriculture, construction and heavy industry machinery. (This point for possible collaboration also shows a practical case on how our universities can be integrated into regional disaster management capacity building.)

d] Similarly, and using university energy research units as a base, the targetted use of small scale solar and wind powered, modular off-grid electricity generation systems would allow for deployment of reliable emergency communication, instrumentation [scientific, IT and biomedical], refrigeration of strategic items such as drugs, and more. It would also open up a base for developing capacity for this strategic cluster of future energy technologies.

e] Also, if we can develop and deploy an effective small scale modular biomass-based biofuel production capacity -- biodiesel, biogas, ethanol and butanol [this last being a direct substitute for gasoline] -- it would create an emergency vehicle and equipment fuel system that would be independent of supply disruptions and price volatility etc.

f] It is worth looking at the emerging green car kernel proposal as a possible model for flexible fuel emergency on- and off-road vehicles.

g] The building or adapting of a number of small roll-on, roll-off [RO-RO] container-carrying ships based at designated points in the region would allow for rapid deployment of resources in response to emergencies.

(Perhaps, we can work on the development of a regional merchant marine with links to the Caribbean Maritime Institute training college at Palisadoes, Jamaica? [Would a cut-down version of he Buffalo Soldier class Ro-Ro vessel, or an update to the classic WW II era Landing Ship, Tank do? Perhaps, with the clamshell door and cargo ramp at the stern, with manouvering thrusters in the bow?])

h] Similarly, there should be reserve contracts with regional catamaran ferry services to provide for rapid sea-based transportation of first responder teams and crucial equipment.

i] Our region also needs a "Caricom" fleet of flexible, turbo-prop, short and rough field capacity aircraft with adequate range to hop across the region and equipped for search and rescue, medical evacuation and rapid deployment of first responder teams and crucial equipment or cargo.

(The famous Lockheed C-130 four-engine 2,000+ mile range, 72,000 lb/64 - 92 passenger [including 74 medevac litter] turbo prop or the related civilian versions L-100 or L-382 would be one possibility at the heavier lift end of the scale. The twin engine De Haviland Twin Otter family and the less familiar but heavier lift Polish-built PZL M-28 Skytruck version of the Antonov 28 family, or the Short C-23 Sherpa or the CASA C-212 Aviocar or the Chinese made Harbin Y-12 [one is in use with the Guyana Defence Force] or the like should be seriously considered at the lighter lift, shorter range end of the scale.)

j] As an augmentation to this, national and regional DCM Offices should have arrangements with key regional airlines (e.g. LIAT, Caribbean Airways, Air Jamaica) for emergency support charter flights.
12 --> The integration of these technologies, arrangements and systems into a growing regional disaster management capacity would not only provide a much needed capability, but would provide a model for other regional capacity-building and transformation initiatives.

13 --> In this context, we should note the observation that church mission and relief efforts have been a long time positive contribution in Haiti. Accordingly, similar collaborative development of co-ordinated DCM capacity by church organisations and missions agencies active in the region would be a way to enhance that contribution. Such a development should also be co-ordinated to the extent possible with regional and local DCM Offices and initiatives.

14 --> Finally, in all of this, the example of Nehemiah is instructive:

a] As an official in Peria, he showed such capability, situational awareness and reliability that the King literally trusted him with his life. (As cup-bearer he needed to know what was going on, and was tasked to taste food for the king to test against poisoning.)

[NB: An interesting subtlety here is that his job almost certainly meant he had to sample foods forbidden under the Levitical dietary laws, and certainly would have been consecrated to pagan gods. So, a part of the message of Nehemiah is that spiritual soundness and succor for God's people may be found in the most unexpected places, and that such soundness and caling from God are not a matter of punctilious observance of correct rituals and forms.]

b] On learning of the disatrous situation with the walls of Jerusalem, he set out on indentification with the sins of the people and repentance, seeking God's help in opening a door to restoration.

c] He obtained the support of the King, and letters of warrant for key required resources.

d] On setting out to and arriving in Jerusalem, he surveyed the situation privately, then called the people to rebuilding.

e] In the face of internal challenges and external threats, ridicule and slander, he was resolute.

f] He mobilised the people, and delegated the work in manageable pieces, seeing to it that the worlers were guarded. As a result, the work was completed in an astonishingly short time

g] Following this, Ezra was able to call a solemn assembly in which the reading of the Law and its explanation triggered national repentance, renewal and revival, setting the tone for Israel's future in the centuries to come.


Through all of this, we can see ways in which a regionally integrated, strategically focused disaster cycle management capacity- building effort can contribute significantly to not only the rebuilding of Haiti, but also to the sustainable development oriented transformation of the wider region.

An effort in which the region's largest single bloc of Non-Government, Community-Based Civil Society Organisations -- its churches -- can and should play a key role. END

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