Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Hugh Riley has called on Caribbean states to take tsunami preparedness seriously, stating to do otherwise would put the people and regional economies at risk.
Speaking in Paris, France, during a discussion organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to raise awareness of the threats posed by tsunamis, Riley insisted that Caribbean countries risked paying the price for complacency.
He stressed with the Caribbean being comprised mainly of low-lying states, and with most tourism assets and hotel investments located at or near coastal areas, the tourism sector is extremely vulnerable to the threat of tsunamis.
“Tourism is the main economic driver of the Caribbean, representing 80 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product and more than one million jobs so we cannot ignore a tsunami risk,” he told fellow panellists and the wider audience, which included representatives from Grenada, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
“Complacency puts us in real danger and we must raise the Caribbean’s voice by advocating for our members during this important global forum,” he added.
The event was being held in advance of World Tsunami Awareness Day on 5 Nov. 2018. The secretary general noted that the region had experienced 11 tsunamis in the past, the most recent of which occurred in 2010, and six between 1902 and 1997.
He suggested that because there has been no “recent” impact on the region, tsunamis are not considered an imminent threat, therefore, they are not given sufficient attention.
He called for an increase in tsunami awareness and sensitisation of the tourism sector and the wider Caribbean community, as well as support for training by regional institutions and countries to develop preparedness and response protocols.
“The CTO recognises that tsunami preparedness is critical, which includes well-established and tested response protocols which will ultimately reduce loss of life and economic damage. We also need to enhance collaboration with countries recently and frequently impacted by tsunami hazards in order to develop best practices.”
Riley highlighted several CTO members’ tsunami readiness initiatives, including Anguilla, the first English-speaking Caribbean island to be recognised as “tsunami ready” in September 2011 and has maintained certification status. Since then the British Virgin Islands and St. Kitts and Nevis have received similar recognition, all having established emergency operating centres, national tsunami plans, public outreach and alert systems, public service information programmes and tsunami preparedness and response protocols.
The high-level panel was organised by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) to discuss policies and practices to reduce tsunami risks in countries highly dependent on tourism revenue.
The meeting opened with a minute’s silence in memory of the 2,000 confirmed dead and 680 officially missing in the tsunami and earthquake which struck Indonesia on 28 Sept. 2018. The double disaster left almost 70,000 people homeless and 11,000 injured in the Indonesian cities of Palu and Donggala in Central Sulawesi.