Delivering a safer ocean in the Caribbean

UNESCO and the European Commission just completed a major project to strengthen capacities to detect and respond to tsunamis and other coastal hazards in seven Caribbean countries.

Communities in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and in Trinidad and Tobago have recently been recognized as “Tsunami Ready” at the end of a two-year tsunami early-warning and preparedness project funded by the European Commission and implemented by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

The regional efforts led by IOC and funded by the Humanitarian Aid department’s Disaster Preparedness Programme (DIPECHO) to bolster tsunami preparedness in the Caribbean and Adjacent regions focused on coordination, hazard assessment, warning communication, preparedness activities, response and resilience to tsunamis and other ocean hazards. The project supports more widely the global efforts coordinated by the IOC to advance global coastal hazard early warning and preparedness.

Across the four Caribbean countries, the communities participating in the project fulfilled 10 requirements necessary to be awarded IOC’s Pilot Community Performance Based Tsunami Recognition, meaning they are recognized by international standards as Tsunami Ready. The communities in the four countries covered by the project were the first in their country to receive the UNESCO recognition, and have now joined over sixty (60) Tsunami Ready communities in the region.

“With the support of the DIPECHO-UNESCO/IOC Project and partnering initiatives, the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) in St. Vincent and the Grenadines coordinated with the Union Island District Disaster Committee and the community of Union Island to develop and enhance capacities for tsunami warning communication as well as inundation and evacuation mapping for that island. We look forward to working with the IOC and partners to make other vulnerable communities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tsunami Ready,” emphasized Ms. Michelle Forbes, Director, National Emergency Management Organisation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean and adjacent regions, the project also targeted disaster management officials, partners, and populations in seven (7) pilot countries and five (5) at-risk coastal communities, supporting national and community activities towards Tsunami Ready recognition of Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic), and providing signage and equipment to reinforce preparedness in Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, recognized as Tsunami Ready territories in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

The IOC-DIPECHO project encompassed regional, national and community activities and stakeholders, including the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and its Regional Response Mechanism (RRM), the US NOAA NWS Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program (CTWP), the Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies St. Augustine (SRC), and the United Nations Development Programme for Barbados and the OECS (UNDP).

The project delivered a number of pioneering tools and mechanisms to support and streamline the regional and national disaster management landscape, including:

  • A “Tsunami Annex” to the Regional Coordination Plan (RCP)
  • National and community tsunami protocols and standard operating procedures and associated multi-media tools
  • The establishment of a Group of Experts to develop a strategy for the integration of other coastal hazards into the Intergovernmental Coordination Group of the Caribbean Early Warning System (ICG/CARIBE EWS)
  • Updates to the RCP Earthquake and Volcanic Annexes, generic tsunami warning protocol
  • Advancement on the work of the Experts on Tsunami Sources for the Lesser Antilles
  • A tsunami art school contest also showcased the remarkable creativity of the Caribbean youth in promoting public engagement from an early age with the important issues of community preparedness against tsunamis.

Dr Silvia Chacón-Barrantes showcased the project’s role for strengthening the region’s overall capacity for tsunami warning and preparedness: “The DIPECHO-UNESCO/IOC project proved very important for the regional tsunami early warning system. Not only for enhanced tsunami preparedness and support to the Tsunami Ready Recognition Programme, but with the establishment of the Group of Experts on Other Coastal Hazards and the definition of possible tsunami sources at the Lesser Antilles, there is a sustainable regional framework for deeper partnerships and coordination towards wider efforts of building of a regional Multi-Hazards Early Warning System.”

The project contributed to various international and regional strategies such as the Regional Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) Strategy and Programming Framework 2014-2024; the Samoa Action Plan for SIDS, the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development; the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Tsunami Ready pilot project implemented by UNESCO’s IOC and its Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Caribbean Early Warning System (ICG/CARIBE EWS) is modeled after the successful US TsunamiReady program, and is being rolled out with various regional adaptations under global UNESCO leadership.St. John’s City, Antigua and Barbuda.  Students participating in 11 February 2020 Tsunami Drill. 

The Tsunami Ready Programme in the Caribbean region was at the heart of a regional webinar that was hosted on 3 November by UNESCO/IOC, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and other partners to commemorate the 2020 World Tsunami Awareness Day (5 November).

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