Joined-up regional strategy key to cutting pandemic risk, say experts
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating complex economic and social challenges for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean which should cooperate more closely to reduce risk, said speakers at an inaugural event.
Comprehensive regional strategies would help protect the region’s most vulnerable from future outbreaks as well as hazards such as hurricanes, said speakers at the “Virtual Dialogue: The Americas and the Caribbean in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic” event.
“The risks we face today are complex, reflecting a much more interconnected reality as we see today with COVID-19,” said Raul Salazar, head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s (UNDRR) Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean. “These risks generate cascading effects that are replicated in all aspects of our societies. Facing the reality and complexity of risk today requires multi-sectoral and multilateral cooperation.”
The Virtual Dialogue was organised by UNDRR, alongside the Coordination Center for the Prevention of Disasters in Central America and the Dominican Republic (CEPREDENAC) and the Central American Integration System (SICA).
The meeting, which involved representatives from national risk management agencies, was designed to help countries formulate a coordinated response to the pandemic which is sweeping the region.
The harsh economic impact of COVID-related lockdowns showed countries need to better prepare for the financial impact of future events, said speakers.
“Just as we can say that no disaster is natural, we can affirm that some epidemics are also economic,” said Carlos Villalba, national director for prevention and disaster risk reduction at Argentina’s Undersecretariat for Risk Management and Civil Protection. “We all must develop comprehensive response platforms. We have to do things before events happen. We have to do better during the next pandemic.”
Speakers at the event said COVID-19 showed countries needed to formulate pandemic plans that better addressed the economic needs and daily realities of the most vulnerable who often cannot afford to stay at home, said speakers.
“We have a society and a sector of our population that lives hand to mouth and has had to go out, in breach of protocols, in search of their livelihoods,” said Maria Alexandra Ocles, from Ecuador’s Secretariat for Risk Management. “We must implement strategies to avoid further contagion but based on a vision that includes the most vulnerable.”
The complex, cross-border nature of the pandemic underscored the need for a joined-up regional strategy to tackle the virus, Claudia Herrera, executive secretary of CEPREDENAC, told the event.
A Central American regional contingency fund now totalled $1.9 billion and would be used for health programmes, the protection of medical teams and stronger information campaigns, she explained.
The fund would also be used to strengthen preparation, mitigation and humanitarian assistance, she added.
"We must join efforts to move forward with a unified and collaborative approach," said Herrera.
In a multi-hazard region, the virus also risks complicating efforts to prepare countries ahead of the approaching Atlantic hurricane season, said speakers.
"We are also preparing for the hurricane season. We will face risks other than COVID-19, and the Caribbean states must be ready to face those risks," said Ronald Jackson, executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).
He explained how the Caribbean is centralising efforts to tackle the pandemic, enabling countries to exchange information and better coordinate joint purchases of medical equipment.
When the pandemic finally fades and lockdowns loosen, countries in the region should grab the opportunity to rethink and restructure as they adapt to the new normality, said speakers.
NOT THE LAST
“We must re-emerge with a new concept of humanity. We must review the collective attitude of all sectors,” said Vinicio Cerezo, SICA secretary general. “We must review the concepts that we have become accustomed to such as the role of the state, the role of education in society and the importance of working together to resolve complex situations.”
The unprecedented global impact of the pandemic has shown there is no time for complacency once this virus fades, and the region has to be prepared for the next major challenge, said speakers.
“The most important lesson learned is that in a globalised world, this pandemic will not be the last,” said Andrew Slaten, deputy director of the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “We have to start an international dialogue, hemispheric at least, to plan government preparation for the next pandemic, which will surely happen.”