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Disaster bill ‘a significant step’


Tribune Staff Reporter

MYLES Laroda, State Minister for Disaster Preparedness, led debate in the House of Assembly yesterday on the Disaster Risk Management Bill 2022, saying the proposed legislation, once enacted, will mark a “significant step” in the country’s development.

 The Bill seeks to provide for a more effective and comprehensive disaster risk management policy and framework through establishing a new authority that will deal with risk management and related matters.

 The body will be called the Disaster Risk Management Authority that will manage aspects of disaster preparedness. The Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) will merge under the new agency.

 “It will be headed by a managing director, appointed by the prime minister who shall be the authority’s chief executive,” Mr Laroda said yesterday. “The Disaster Risk Management Authority will continue to build and enhance institutional capacity, increase community awareness and participation and enhance stakeholder linkages.

 “It will expand training opportunities in various disaster management disciplines and improve public education and awareness campaigns. The agency will collaborate with all stakeholders to conduct simulation exercises and drills at the national, district and community levels, including schools and business.”

 The agency will also lead a team dedicated to developing a population that understands and participates in disaster risk reduction initiatives, he also said.

 “Hurricane Dorian is still fresh on our minds,” Mr Laroda added, “It took many lives, displaced many more and devastated livelihoods and properties.

 “Hurricane Dorian continues to remind all Bahamians of the critical task ahead to build the resilience of Bahamian society and protect the country and its people from future disasters.

 “Adopting a robust disaster risk management (DRM) governance framework is essential to ensure that a nation is resilient to disasters.”

 The minister said the legislation will be the country’s “legal foundation” for a robust reform agenda to strengthen its approach to disaster risk management and to integrate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in planning and investment prioritisation at all government levels.

 The bill, among other things, also makes provisions for the national disaster risk management policy which is a “set of decisions approved by the government to address issues related to disaster risk.”

 Instruments of the policy include a national disaster risk management plan, national disaster emergency plan, public body and local plans, national disaster risk information system, national early warning system, disaster emergency fund, disaster prevention fund among others.

 “Regarding risk reduction, the bill establishes that public bodies are responsible for disaster risk reduction within the scope of their functions and jurisdictions; requires public bodies to reduce the vulnerability of critical infrastructure under their responsibility, establishes that local government are responsible for disaster risk reduction within the scope of their functions and jurisdictions,” Mr Laroda added.

 “Regarding disaster preparedness, the bill establishes the formulation of emergency plans by public bodies, provides for the creation and operation of early warning systems; establishes the principle of subsidiary assistance between different government levels; authorises local governments to use their resources outside their jurisdiction in emergencies.”

 While the bill allows for the prime minister to order evacuations, it makes no provision for the imposition of a fine or imprisonment for people who refuse to evacuate.

 However, the bill specifies that “where residents within the selected area or island refuse to evacuate, no first response shall have a duty to risk his life to rescue or recover any person in the specified location or island.”

 “While we would not be issuing a fine for those individuals who refuse to evacuate, on the other hand, you cannot expect first responders to risk their lives to save you in the event of disasters when all of the warnings have been given out and the evacuation orders,” Mr Laroda added “You will not have the luxury of having first responders having risked their lives to come and save you.”

 National Security Minister Wayne Munroe seconded the bill yesterday, saying it allows the government to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to disaster response.

 He also noted that the government has approved the acquisition of 100 new patrol vehicles for the RBPF to be distributed across the islands, adding that in the event of disasters, “it will have the clearance to clear water... to carry a generator, to carry food and to render assistance.”

 Free National Movement leader Michael Pintard said while the opposition supported the bill, there were still some concerns.

 “We must be awfully careful as policy makers in forming these new structures that we do not fail to modernise and transform the existing ministries that have so many archaic regulations that are slow in many instances in executing on behalf of our people,” the Marco City MP said.

 He also noted that much of the objectives highlighted in the bill already fall under the Ministry of Works.