LaRoda: Disaster Risk Management Bill will be significant step forward

(BIS Photo/Ulric Woodside)

The implementation of the Disaster Risk Management Bill, 2022, will mark a significant step in the country’s development, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Disaster Risk Management, the Hon. Myles LaRoda, told the Lower House of Parliament, Wednesday.

Leading off the debate in the House of Assembly on “A Bill for an Act to provide for a more effective and comprehensive disaster risk management policy and framework through establishing the Disaster Risk Management Authority, and for connected matters” (Long Title), State-Minister LaRoda said approval of the legislation will provide for a more effective and comprehensive Disaster Risk Management (DRM) policy that, in addition to preserving the good practices of the existing legal framework, features the following quality attributes, among others:

1)The establishment of a responsibility framework on DRM for all government levels and DRM processes.

(2) Establishment of a comprehensive set of instruments to implement the DRM policy.

(3) The coordination and articulation of the DRM policy are to be carried out at a hierarchical level equal to or higher than ministerial.

(4) The articulation of the DRM policy with other sustainable development-related policies, such as climate change adaptation, water resources management, and land use planning.

(5) The mandate to develop a Comprehensive Financial Strategy for DRM.

(6) Establish a national prevention fund that provides budgetary incentives for public bodies and local governments to implement ex-ante DRM activities, and

(7) Establishing a mechanism for civil society participation is applicable to DRM.

Mr. LaRoda said adopting a robust disaster risk management governance framework is essential to ensuring that a nation is resilient to disasters. This fact, he said, was acknowledged by the United Nations’ Sendai Framework Agreement for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, signed by The Bahamas in 2015. The Sendai Framework aims to substantially reduce disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods, health, and the economic, physical, social, cultural, and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities, and countries by 2030. Included in the framework as a 2nd Priority for Action is “Strengthening Disaster Risk Management Governance for resilience.”

Mr. LaRoda laid out the genesis of the proposed legislation for his Parliamentary colleagues. He said after acknowledging that the current governance arrangements in The Bahamas were not “optimal” for the effective implementation of the DRM policy, the Davis Administration authorized the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs to collaborate with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) to draft legislation aimed at developing, promoting and implementing 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.

“Following this decision by the Government, a request was made to the Inter-American Development Bank to provide technical support to draft the said legislation. Subsequently, the Ministry of Finance requested a policy-based loan (PBL) series to support this legal reform.”

Mr. LaRoda said as a part of the governance framework, the new Act will establish a new entity, the Disaster Risk Management Authority, to coordinate the policy’s implementation and the responsibilities of other stakeholders, like other public bodies.

“As indicated in Part V of the Bill, the Authority will be a corporate body responsible for disaster risk management in The Bahamas. It will be headed by a Managing Director, appointed by the Prime Minister, who shall be the Authority’s Chief Executive.

“The Disaster Risk Management Authority will continue to build and enhance institutional capacity, increase community awareness and participation, and enhance stakeholder linkages. It will expand training opportunities in various disaster management disciplines and improve public education and awareness campaigns. The Agency will collaborate with all stakeholders to conduct simulation exercises and drills at the national, district, and community levels, including schools and businesses. The Agency will lead a team dedicated to developing a population that wholeheartedly understands and participates in disaster risk reduction initiatives,” State-Minister LaRoda added.

State-Minister LaRoda said The Bahamas is one of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) that has historically experienced the most significant number of climate disasters.

“There have been 14 significant disasters in the past 20 years, mainly due to hurricanes,” Mr. LaRoda said. “These have included hurricanes Joaquin (2015), Matthew (2016), Irma (2017), and Dorian (2019), with total damages of US$104.8 million, US$438.6 million, US$200 million, and US$ 3.4 billion, respectively.

“Hurricane Dorian is still fresh in our minds. It took many lives, displaced many more, and devastated livelihoods and properties. Hurricane Dorian continues to remind all Bahamians of the critical task ahead to build the resilience of the Bahamian society and protect the country and its people from future disasters,” Mr. LaRoda added.