Disaster Risk Reduction: Insights from the Bahamas

Connecting Business initiative Secretariat • 9 October 2020


In the context of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on October 13, we invited CBi Member Networks and prospective networks to share why disaster risk reduction (DRR) matters now more than ever and why it is relevant for the private sector to engage. Below is the interview with Jeffrey Beckles, Business Consultant/Director, Bahamas Strong Alliance (NPO).  

Why does disaster risk reduction (DRR) matter? 

Disaster risk reduction matters in that as we learn more about our vulnerabilities in our societies due to climate change and other tragic events, the more we can actually eliminate them - and we follow the pattern of that old adage that it's better to have a plan and then have an incident than to have an incident without a plan. So it really does matter for us that we understand what our vulnerabilities are and reduce those risks as much as we can. 

What's in it for the private sector to engage in disaster risk reduction? 

Private sector engagement is very critical. As with most economies, the private sector is the largest investor, the largest employer and pays the largest fair share of taxes. It would seem reasonable then, that – as we know – in most instances when there is a disaster, the private sector suffers the greatest losses. 

We have seen this with the hurricanes in the past year in the Bahamas. So, the private sector’s interest is pretty high, and the motivation to participate is really what drives the involvement. In fact, here in the Bahamas, the private sector leads the effort, in risk mitigation, but also in responding to disasters at every level. The private sector really is the one that drives the response, primarily because we suffer the most losses when there is an event. 

What kind of work does the private sector network do with regards to disaster risk reduction? 

Since we've gotten involved with the CBI network, one of the things that we have been able to do is to gain access to greater information and information sharing by talking to our peers, as many of live in regions like ours, where our greatest threat comes from hurricanes. We have been able to access information and apply that information to how we assess our vulnerabilities and how we respond. 

A good example of that would have been with Hurricane Dorian in 2019. The private sector was one of the first responders to the disaster and this organically grown effort eventually led to a case study of how we responded, what actions we had to take and who was involved. We have also shared the case study with other countries in the CBI network.  

Recently, we did a paper that spoke to why we should move certain communities that are located very low on coastal areas. We did an assessment of the risks that they would face, and it was based on that risk assessment that we were able to convince the government and other private sector agencies of the value of looking at other islands and engage in new strategy development that will save lives as well as reduce the capital investment losses.  

Do you have any other concrete examples you would like to share about the work you do towards disaster risk reduction? 

One of the wonderful things that has happened is that we were able to take what we've done with the Dorian response and pivot it towards helping communities get through the current pandemic.  

That Dorian experience alerted us to the capacity we have and how we can take that same strategy and use it to lend support in other areas such as the pandemic, even though it is not a climate event, helping communities get small businesses back up and running. 

To that end, we organized small business workshops to talk about business continuity plans and educate the business community on how to adjust to the changing environment. We were able to secure small loan and grant programs to help small businesses during the pandemic - so we focused a lot on education as well as how we can help small businesses understand vulnerabilities, how they can adjust, where they can access help. 

How has CBi supported you in further developing your work? 

The CBi network has been a critical ally in helping us develop our capacity, because prior to us getting involved with CBi, we relied solely on our local experience.  

As a result, in our efforts here, we are strongly focusing on education and we're enhancing that with information that is shared from around the world - and that has proven to be very, very helpful to us. 

Another priority to us is to ensure that smaller countries get the level of support they need. There are many small island development states like the Bahamas who are very vulnerable, particularly in the area of climate change. We need to make sure that we strike a better balance in terms of assessing the vulnerabilities in the smaller developing states and how we respond globally, because many of the small island states have really not been contributors to greenhouse gases and the like, but we are paying the very high price for the current situation because we are victimized by these climate change events. 

With that in mind, one of the things I would really like to see us do is to spend some more quality time understanding the impact on our economies, on our lifestyles, on our livelihoods and see how best we can have a more robust global response to lending assistance to islands and developing countries like ours. 

Last but not least, I think the overall objective of CBi is a commendable one in that it is making a strong effort to connect the global partners to lend support to ensure that we are provided educational resources and tap into the extensive global resource capacity that has come about as a result of so many entities coming together. I believe it's part and parcel of what our global responsibility really is to work more closely with each other.  

We often talk about the global village, but CBi’s effort in this regard – to connect businesses and connecting community – is a part of us living out that commitment to ensure that we don't keep information to ourselves, but also to ensure that we provide the level of support to our various countries and to each other.  

Thinking of the future, I think the Bahamas will take a leading role in ensuring that we develop a regional CBi network here in the Caribbean region, and this is thanks to the incredible effort by CBi to help us understand the importance of global partnerships and alliances. 

Photo credit:  UN/OCHA/Mark Garten