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UN aid chief urges more coordinated disaster relief in Latin America, Caribbean

UN aid chief urges more coordinated disaster relief in Latin America, Caribbean

John Holmes
Governments across the Latin American and Caribbean region need to ensure that their response systems to humanitarian disasters work in greater harmony both with each other and with international relief efforts, according to the top United Nations aid official.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said yesterday that the UN’s relief and response programmes after natural disasters – such as the series of deadly hurricanes that have lashed the Caribbean in the past month – are designed to help existing national efforts.

Speaking after the conclusion of a two-day conference in Mexico City on enhancing international humanitarian partnerships in the region, Mr. Holmes said it was important for individual countries and other aid providers to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses in disaster preparedness and response so that they can work together more effectively when a disaster strikes.

“The discussions during this meeting definitely highlighted that action between national, regional and international humanitarian actors can indeed be very complementary,” said Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

As a first step, he stressed, it was “essential to establish the basic compatibility of national response systems with the international system, tools and mechanisms.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a press release that the Mexico City meeting spotlighted gaps in disaster preparedness and response, especially concerning the need to have timely and high-quality information during a crisis.

Over 80 participants from 20 nations agreed that countries of the Latin American and Caribbean region should work together more closely on disasters, given the region’s vulnerability not just to hurricanes, but also to floods, droughts and earthquakes.

Over the past month hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike have killed hundreds of people and caused billions of dollars of damage to infrastructure across the Caribbean. Haiti, Cuba and the Turks and Caicos Islands have been among the hardest hit.