Disaster Risk Reduction Management Bill tabled in the House of Assembly

(BIS Photos/Ulric Woodside)

The Government of The Bahamas moved to address new legislation that is expected to lead to “a more agile regime” insofar as the country’s comprehensive Disaster Risk Reduction Management Strategy is concerned, by tabling the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Bill (Short Title) in the House of Assembly (Wednesday, November 16, 2022).

Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Disaster Risk Reduction Management, the Hon. Myles K. LaRoda, who tabled the Bill for the First Reading Wednesday, said the proposed legislation will provide for a more effective and comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Policy and Framework through the establishment of the Disaster Risk Management Authority and for Connected Matters. (The Bill’s Long Title.)

State-Minister LaRoda said the purpose of the Act is to develop, promote and implement an approach to disaster risk management that is holistic, comprehensive, integrated, and proactive in lessening the socio-economic and environmental impacts of disasters including climate change; and focuses on reducing risk, including the risk of loss of life, health, physical integrity, economic disruption and damage to the environment and property, especially to those members of the population who are most vulnerable by reason of age, disability, poverty, lack of resources, physical displacement or gender; and (b) promote the involvement and participation of all relevant sectors and stakeholders, at all levels of the society.

State-Minister LaRoda said the proposed legislation will lead to the establishment of a singular entity that will place greater focus on all disasters and/or risks that could negatively impact the country – and not just hurricanes.

“There were three agencies at one point, there was NEMA (the National Emergency Management Agency), there was the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Reconstruction and then there was the DRA (Disaster Reconstruction Authority) which was formed basically for that hurricane zone of Dorian being East Grand Bahama and Abaco, in particular the Marsh Harbour area,” Mr. LaRoda said.

“What we have with three different entities is a replication and an overlapping of duties and personalities. When NEMA as an institution was founded, it was basically to serve as a Coordinating Agency in an impending storm and so it basically functioned during hurricane season where you got all of the relevant government agencies together.

“We need to have an agency that functions year-round. So apart from just looking at hurricanes, we are dealing with disasters, risk of disasters, resilience, mitigation and recovery. And so now we are moving away from not just worrying about how we are going to take care of the country in an impending storm, (but) we are looking at disaster risk outside of hurricane season. If we can identify those risks, if we can mitigate those risks, it puts us in a better position that even though there is an impending disaster, we will be much more prepared and the recovery time will be less.”

State-Minister LaRoda said the Agency emerging from the proposed legislation will serve as a more agile regime.

“When I say agile, it puts all of the components of NEMA, that is dealing with coordination; you will also have grant funding that you will have the ability to deal with, but you will also have an agency that is also setting career path for individuals who come in.”

State-Minister LaRoda said additional benefits are included in the proposed legislation.

“I have said this over and over, the days are gone from just going to the old Fire Chief to say he is going to be in charge. We are talking about cutting-edge equipment, we are talking about science, we are talking about a new, developing field of dealing with disasters, risk management, identifying recovery and mitigation, and so what the government wants to do is to have an agency that has all of those components in it.

“Humanitarian Aid Agencies want to know that if we give into the country, or into an agency, that the monies and gifts, whether it be in cash or in kind, is going to go for that sole purpose. If you have a legislative regime, if you have an entity, a respected entity that has connections in other countries or with other institutions in other countries, that makes it much easier for those individuals to say comfortably that we can do this for this agency, similar to the Red Cross. Everybody knows that the Red Cross has established itself as an agency where you can send funds, where you can send material and there is a confident belief that the Red Cross will do the right thing. By establishing the new Agency via legislation, they will be able to have this same kind of confidence.

“Country to country, or even NGO to country, they are going to require that you have a certain legislative regime. Countries and companies just don’t go out giving monies without there being a transparent end on the receiver side and so if we are going to ask for funding, we have to have a legislative framework in place that allows us to do certain things,” Mr. LaRoda said.

Another key component included in the proposed legislation is the area that speaks to Humanitarian Assistance. State-Minister LaRoda said building grant fund writing capacity in-country, will be critical in seeking humanitarian assistance. Mr. LaRoda said the recent Agreement signed between the Pacific Disaster Centre (Hawaii, United States of America), the University of The Bahamas, and the University of Hawaii, will help build both intellectual and institutional capacity in the area of grant fund writing.

“What we are going to need here is grant fund writing ability and so under this new agency we will [train] individuals that go and source money. The Bahamas’ agreement with Pacific Disaster Center, the University of The Bahamas and the University of Hawaii opens the door to attract funding. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in funding that are available and so we have to put ourselves in a position to have the technical expertise and people to do that. (As a result of) this collaboration between the University of Hawaii, PDC and UB, there will be the ability for Bahamians to obtain scholarships in the relevant fields and so the field of grant fund writing that is very, very important and so we won’t be needing outside help in this area, or consultants, if we are training our people to do this.

“I’ll give you an example, the Hope Town Lighthouse renovations is one of the US Government’s largest donations to a project of that kind and size. What made it possible for that was that The Bahamas, those who worked with that programme had the skillset to write to American agencies in language and detailed enough to get that kind of money,” State-Minister LaRoda added.