Understanding the complexity of risk: the post COVID-19 challenge


Luis Burón B.

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction – Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean
Complejidad del riesgo
Jezael Melgoza

 "The COVID-19 crisis is going to change how we work forever," stressed Rodney Martínez, World Meteorological Organization representative for North America, Central America and the Caribbean. “We cannot keep reflecting on the problems that continue to drag on for decades. One of the main challenges in the region is the dispersion and fragmentation of efforts. We need to establish collaborative and sustainable actions through unified platforms. We must urgently move from words to action,” he said.

Martínez was one of the panelists of the Webinar “Multiple Hazards and Systemic Risk: Addressing climate-related disasters in times of COVID-19”, organized by UNDRR on behalf of the United Nations Inter-agency Issue Based Coalition on Climate Change and Resilience, to address the changes in perception towards systemic and multi-hazard risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Martínez points out the challenges of maintaining a traditional approach to systemic risk management. Therefore, it requires a more holistic approach to hazard identification and risk management because systemic risks are complex and non-linear.

The hurricane season in the Caribbean will test systemic risk governance and the importance of strengthening preparedness and multi-sector coordination models. “We are witnessing a chain of effects with impacts beyond the health sector, with impacts in the various national sectors. Systemic risk is the possibility of multiple, non-linear linkages, which requires changing our perception of risks and their governance mechanisms. A multisectoral and interdisciplinary approach is urgent,” said Raúl Salazar, Chief of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) – Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean. He added that these mechanisms become more urgent when confronted with climate-related hazards during a pandemic crisis.

Keith Nurse, principal of Sir Arthur Lewis Community College of Saint Lucia, urged the reconfiguration of measures to reduce systemic risks and multiple hazards, especially in the Caribbean, one of the most exposed regions to the hurricane season. “It will be the most important recession in the region in half a century. How people can maintain hygiene with no water, no electricity, no telecoms. This could run on for weeks if not months. There are some measures that could minimize the impacts of similar scenarios in the future, like facing climate change as a platform for alternative development models, facilitating trade in environmental goods, increasing investment in climate smart technology, reconfiguring the tourism sector to prioritize high value for the environment,” he said.

Local and national governments, financial institutions and international groups should adopt these measures in the new normal so that efforts to face the pandemic include better risk mitigation measures, safer and more sustainable investments and more robust infrastructure. “We have to build back better and build back greener. We have to adopt and develop specific policies that help the region grow upwards, but also downwards, always fueled by these comprehensive approaches,” said Piedad Martín, deputy regional director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Post-recovery process should not fall solely to the public sector but also focus on how private investment can contribute to building more resilient, greener and sustainable societies, as in the case of ARISE, a regional cooperation network between private initiative and public sector. “There is no business as usual now, and there is no return to business as usual. We wouldn’t want to anyway because we don’t want to continue being exposed. Our business models make us vulnerable. We need to work together with government and academia. We need to be able to understand risk before making specific decisions,” said Melissa Pierre, project and trade officer for the American Chamber of Commerce in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Our enemy is not the virus, it is society, the governance system and our lack of control in the face of vulnerable conditions. We are not going to war against COVID-19, we are going to rethink our role as humans, as societies,” said Allan Lavell, Ph.D in economic geography and winner of the 2015 Sasakawa Award. “Disasters are unsolved development problems, and the risk associated with these events comes from poorly achieved development. Risk management has to be integrated into development,” he added.

Andria Grosvenor, deputy director a.i. of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), added that it is from resilience which this process of incorporating new approaches to managing complex risk and its cascading effects will begin. "Resilience is at the heart of everything, because it is not only about being able to build back better but being able to bounce forward," added Grosvenor in this webinar, the first in this series whose objective is to improve understanding of the systemic nature of risk and discuss the best strategies to face the pandemic amid the challenges of climate change in the region.  


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