Role of NEMA highlighted, Newton salutes women in disaster management

Permanent Secretary Mr. Elvis Newton (Photo by Erasmus Williams)

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, OCTOBER 15TH 2012 (CUOPM) – Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Homeland Security, Mr. Elvis Newton says the role of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in disaster management is multi-faceted.

“We are charged not only with engaging in actions that reduce risk and vulnerability to hazard impact, but particularly this year, those actions ought to draw attention to the fact that the efforts of women and girls to protect and rebuild their communities before and after disasters, often go unrecognized,” said Mr. Newton in a radio and television address in observance of the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction.

“We have the opportunity now to highlight some of these inequities and to change our individual and communal paths through awareness and focus,” said Mr. Newton, who is also Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Labour and Social Security.

He noted that throughout history, people around the world have been losing their lives, homes and access to essential facilities such as hospitals and places of employment, due to natural disasters. These include earthquakes, droughts, tsunamis, heavy flooding, hurricanes or cyclones.

“In addition, many of these disasters have caused economic damage to some countries; resulting in enormous recovery and rehabilitation costs to financial systems that may already be under considerable pressure. It is therefore fitting that The United Nations has acknowledged the value of education, training, and information exchanges as effective ways which governments utilise to help persons become better equipped to withstand natural disasters,” said Mr. Newton.

He said he was certain that persons in St. Kitts and Nevis may already be aware of some of these information exchanges which include NEMA’s national earthquake and tsunami media campaign.

“This popular infomercial instructs persons on response to hazards. “Do the DCH” Mr. Newton pointing out that NEMA is indeed thankful for the additional promotion, as “we have recognised that an educated populace not only reduces the need for direct government intervention, but also supports the national response mechanism at the community level.”

He noted that in St. Kitts and Nevis, prioritising scarce resources has led to some successes in attempts to develop a culture of resilience among the people.

“We have benefited from projects that have repaired roads as well as programmes targeting vulnerable low-lying and coastline communities, as a result of collaboration with our regional and international partners,” said Mr. Newton.

According to the United Nations one objective of observing the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction is to sensitise the social and financial communities and organisations of their important role in reducing disaster risk.

“One of the ways that we do this is by increasing awareness in the disaster and risk management community focusing on how best to better utilise existing financial tools and safety nets to mitigate the vulnerability of disaster-proned populations,” said Mr. Newton, who further pointed out that that hazards are a major risk for the poor, who are already the most vulnerable in society; the destruction of property and lives further escalates their downward cycle of poverty.

“Unfortunately, women and girls are assessed to be most vulnerable to disasters and account disproportionately in the number of individuals so affected. Appropriately, this year’s theme is Women & Girls – The Invisible Force of Resilience,” said Mr. Newton.

Recent tsunami and earthquakes around the world are tragic examples of vulnerability to disasters and how communities can experience extreme poverty and mismanagement within a few hours.

“Our objectives therefore include learning not only from our own mistakes, but from those of others in the global communities as we endeavour to cope with one of the greatest challenges to national development – natural disasters,” said Mr. Newton, who added:

“It is said that the role of men in response to disasters is literally different to that of women and girls. The approach is different. While men and women may be jointly concerned with the physical restructuring of communities, it is to be noted that women are often tasked with the emotional rehabilitation of persons, as well. This is where their resilience is highlighted as a survival mechanism, allowing them to care for their communities while simultaneously taking care of their individual and familial needs.”

Mr. Newton said he was he was heartened that the Districts throughout St. Kitts have decided to honour women who have contributed to the safety of their neighbourhoods.

“Indeed women continue to contribute to the nation, through donations of time, energy and other resources that help victims to transform their lives beyond disasters. In support of those women who have made their lives symbols of national service, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is joining with the Ministry of Health to recognize them as sources of emotional support in the communities they serve'” he said.

Mr. Newton hailed last Friday’s march and rally to acknowledge the women for their contributions to disaster-ridden districts.

“This is what NEMA is doing. For your part, we invite and encourage you to give something back not only to your neighbours but to all women who have been beacons of change in your life, in your community or even the Nation. Say thank you today and commit to engaging in one action this day, to reduce your vulnerability to disaster. One step at a time, our national development will be strengthened through the sustainability of Comprehensive Disaster Management,” Permanent Secretary Newton said.

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