Director of Disaster Management Jasen Penn’s Message for International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction 2023 – Fighting Inequality for a Resilient Future
The goal of International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction is to raise awareness about the dangers of disasters and encourage individuals and governments to do their part to ensure that everyone can prepare for, respond to, and recover after an impact.
Here in the Virgin Islands, the disaster management programme has been evolving and improving. I believe leaders over the years have done well to adopt the concept of comprehensive disaster management – through strategic planning to steer long term goals; national and sectoral plans; a robust multi-hazard early warning system; strong collaboration with regional and local partners; a commitment to ongoing capacity building; and a mechanism to connect different arenas of the community to the central disaster management coordinators.
All this means that we have a population that is well on board with the key ways they can incorporate risk reduction concepts into daily living.
But in the spirit of continued improvement, and in keeping with this year’s Disaster Risk Reduction Day theme of ‘Resilience for All,’ I would like to call our collective attention to the fact that when disasters strike, they hit our most vulnerable persons much harder.
Having a disability is a risk multiplier when it comes to facing emergencies. A person whose sole income is a disability grant may have enough funds to meet their basic needs, but would be facing a housing crisis if their home were damaged by a storm. More frequent serious hazard impacts can put such persons in a cycle of moving from crisis to crisis. Let’s break the cycle!
You may wonder, what steps have been taken at the national level to support persons with disabilities and fight inequality? I am happy to share that the Government of the Virgin Islands leads in this area. The Public Service has a modern approach to recruitment and hiring of differently-abled persons. The Ministry of Health and Social Development supports resilience of vulnerable persons with their assistance grants programme. It also encourages vulnerable persons to keep in close touch with their case managers and health care providers to maintain continuity of care.
We also have the recently completed SMART Community Centres, which were renovated with accessibility in mind. This helps to ensure that persons using a mobility device such as a walker or wheelchair can have equal access to shelter in the event of an emergency. And, as our recent EMAP re-accreditation showed, national plans and exercises include the most vulnerable of our population.
But how can we as a Territory better support persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in our population? In the workplace, we can build awareness about the barriers that persons with disabilities face. Employers can make sure that they hear and understand the challenges of employees and make assistive technology available to our customers and staff. Those of us with means can contribute to the organisations that work to support vulnerable persons. Volunteering your time or donating to the local food pantry enables those organisations to continue their work as part of the social safety net.
Finally, I would encourage us all to do our part to reduce the sense of isolation that may be felt by vulnerable persons. Let us practise a culture of inclusion: hire persons with disabilities and include them in our social activities. Being fully integrated participants in society strengthens the bonds of social support, which helps us achieve resilience for all.