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Youth set stage for Americas and Caribbean Regional Platform

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JAMAICA – Young people from across the Americas and the Caribbean have asked for a greater role in preparing and implementing policies to reduce disaster risk in one of the most hazard-prone regions of the world.

The Youth Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction - The Americas and the Caribbean was an opportunity for some of the region’s 106 million young people to share priorities, concerns and make proposals over four hours of presentations, plenary sessions and panels. The online gathering was held a week before representatives of governments and civil society meet, again virtually, for the VII Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The platform, which like the forum is hosted by Jamaica, aims at “Building resilient economies in the Americas and the Caribbean” and raising awareness of the special challenges facing small island developing states (SIDS). It is the first time an Americas regional platform is being staged in the Caribbean.

“Today is a true example of what youth can achieve ... we must give them an appropriate space at the table,” said Robert Nesta Morgan, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information.

For geological and geographical reasons, disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, are commonplace in the Caribbean, which is why building resilience – the ability to withstand and rapidly recover when disasters strike – is so important, the minister said. “This conference is a step forward” in this process, he added.

The Caribbean’s small island developing states, including Jamaica, generate a negligible part of the greenhouse gases held responsible for increasing global temperatures and speeding climate change, but they suffer disproportionately from the extreme weather events that are the consequence of that change, Minister Morgan said.

Climate and disaster-resistance consultant Aria Laidlow from St Vincent and Grenadines, where over 20,000 people were forced from their homes in April when the La Soufrière volcano erupted, said that the Caribbean was seven times more prone to disasters than other regions. The frequency of disasters in the eastern Caribbean resulted in “astronomic costs” which in some cases even exceeded a country’s GDP, she said.

“Why is it important that young people take part (in climate change action)? Precisely because the young can bring new options to the table,” said climate activist Natalia Gomez of Costa Rica during one of the panel sessions.

The Covid-19 pandemic has added to the region’s woes, with the young bearing a big part of the burden. “Education has been the silent victim in this Covid fight,” said Jamaica’s Minister of Local Government, Desmond McKenzie, referring to the fact the schools and universities across the Caribbean closed as governments sought to halt the spread of infection.

“It is imperative that disaster risk reduction actors work to together to pay special attention to the risks faced by the young,” UNICEF Representative to Jamaica, Mariko Kagoshima, told the meeting, during which groups of young people continued to work on a statement to be presented to government ministers at the upcoming platform of the Americas and the Caribbean.

The forum’s first plenary session highlighted the views of young people, including those from marginalized, indigenous and vulnerable groups, on the challenges that disasters pose to the Americas and the Caribbean. Covid is affecting the mental health of students and young people, often leading to high levels of depression and stress, one Caribbean activist declared. Disaster risk management must be integrated into all sectors of activity, including education. It must be gender responsive and reflect the needs of indigenous and rural communities.

The second session focused on the role of young people in disaster risk reduction. It heard the views and experiences of young climate activists on how to increase resilience and how to be innovative in preventing and responding to disaster.

Some innovations presented included the ‘One Million Youth Action Challenge (1MYAC)’, which aims to mobilise young people from all over the world to implement one million concrete and meaningful actions in support of the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. An ocean farm project in Jamaica aims to capture carbon to reduce greenhouse gases by harvesting seaweed and oysters, which sequester gases from the ocean and the atmosphere.

Finally, participants split into breakout groups – English, Spanish, French and Portuguese – to discuss specific additional proposals for the draft ‘Youth Declaration” for the Regional Platform. New suggestions included better local-level funding for disaster risk prevention and more involvement by long-term stakeholders.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction in the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, called young people “a powerful constituency for change” and invited them to get involved in all levels of disaster risk reduction work. “The voice of the young has been a powerful voice in driving many countries to develop plans to achieve net zero Co2 emissions by 2050” to contain global warming, she said.

Speaking via video link, Mizutori added: “World leaders need to listen to you and will be held to account by youth if plans to use fossil fuels remain at levels making it impossible to meet that target and developing countries don’t get the resources needed.”

The youth forum was held in collaboration with the Jamaican Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, UNICEF, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), UNESCO and the Global Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR).