Understanding Risk and Enabling Action: Empowering Local Communities to Engage in Emergency Management. The following is the first in a series exploring in-depth the facets of the U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership.
When disaster hits, local organizations are frequently both the first and best positioned to respond. Properly preparing a country to withstand natural disasters requires not only national preparedness and response plans, but the consideration of community-led efforts as well. The Inter-American Foundation (IAF), a U.S. government agency, works directly with community organizations to bolster resiliency to external shocks, whether environmental, social, economic, etc. As part of the recently launched U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership, the IAF is expanding its partnerships in the Caribbean to improve community disaster preparedness, mitigation, and resiliency.
Often an overlooked resource, grassroots organizations in vulnerable communities have innovative ideas for tackling development challenges at the local level, including how local culture, land use, relationships, and more can strengthen efforts to prepare for and mitigate disasters. Tapping into local resources and knowledge has been at the heart of the IAF development model throughout the agency’s 50 years of partnering with grassroots organizations, supporting organizations as leaders in community development. For disaster mitigation, research has shown that previously established relationships between emergency management agencies and communities can facilitate and accelerate disaster response and recovery, as each side understands the other’s needs (for more information on this, please see this report produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency).
In support of the Resilience Partnership, the IAF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and committed to extend funding to strengthen community-led disaster mitigation and resiliency efforts in the Eastern Caribbean through grants, peer-learning exchanges, cooperative agreements, and public-private partnerships. These new efforts are in addition to the IAF’s portfolio of active grants to community organizations in the Caribbean totaling $7.8 million in IAF investments, plus an additional $8.2 million mobilized by grantee partner organizations.
More than half of IAF grants to Haiti and the Dominican Republic support grassroots disaster preparedness and resiliency efforts by incorporating techniques such as soil conservation, sustainable agriculture, grain storage, reforestation, crop diversification, and renewable energy into community-led projects. For example, IAF grantee partner Organisation des Paysans de Labiche (OPLA) in Haiti trains farmers in sustainable agricultural techniques and has assessed threats to beneficial natural resources in six districts. The organization is currently revitalizing 20 hectares of land in Haiti’s Sud-Est department by mobilizing its members to plant trees and live barriers, preventing soil erosion and protecting agricultural land during heavy rains. The project will benefit approximately 6,000 Haitian farmers.
In addition to incorporating resilience efforts into all IAF grants, the agency also quickly responds to and supports local organizations undertaking rebuilding efforts following natural disasters on a case-by-case basis. For example, following Hurricane Matthew in 2017, the IAF rapidly mobilized and awarded small grants to seven Haitian organizations operating in communities decimated by the hurricane. The funds went to rebuilding homes, businesses, and community infrastructure and providing psychological support, complementing the additional humanitarian assistance (totaling over $100 million) provided by the U.S. government.
Empowering local communities is just one way that the United States supports better emergency management practices through the U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership. Agencies from across the U.S. government will be key players in accomplishing the goals of the Partnership. Addressing foreign ministers from the Caribbean on April 12, 2019, Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said, “I want to underscore the United States’ commitment to enhancing our cooperation with the Western Hemisphere and the Caribbean, in particular… The U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership will require continued cooperation to move away from cycles of destruction, relief, and reconstruction.” Other aspects of the partnership will be highlighted in forthcoming installments of this series. For more information see: https://www.state.gov/ministerial-for-the-u-s-caribbean-resilience-partnership/.