A new and significant project was launched on August 31: The “Greening Red Cross and Red Crescent Disaster and Risk Reduction: Saving Lives Through Working with Nature” (yes, that is the full name!) – called the “Eco-DRR Project” for short. The project, funded by the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, will take place in just three countries: Jamaica, Vietnam, and the Phillippines. Local Jamaican partners are the Office of Disaster & Emergency Management (ODPEM) the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA), and Environmental Solutions Limited on the private sector side, among others.
Why is it significant? Because it aims to use nature-based solutions to boost our resilience to disasters (I will not say “natural” disasters, because there is nothing natural about climate change -we humans created it). The idea is not to work against Nature, but with Nature. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines the term “Nature-based solutions” as:
“actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.“IUCN
Breaking down the jargon, this means redressing the balance of Nature; nurturing it and restoring those parts of our natural systems (forests, rivers, coastlines, etc) that have been damaged and that are now affecting human lives and livelihoods negatively. This should be done in a way that is flexible and sensitive, depending on the environment it takes place in. This process should bring benefits for both our own wellbeing and that of the whole variety of life that surrounds us – at the same time. And this must be done sustainably – that is, with an eye to the future, to the long term – not a quick fix. Nature will provide us with the solutions, if we look at it carefully.
At least, this is how I see it. Of course, we should have been living like this all along – in harmony with Nature, if you like – but we humans got carried away. We forgot that Nature is our helper, not our competitor. And we just kept on taking, and taking from her.
So what does “nature-based solutions” really mean in practice? I had an idea of how it would work in the context of this project, which will take place in Old Harbour Bay, St. Catherine, an area I have a bit of an acquaintance with. The “action on the ground” aspect of it was mentioned by more than one participant in the launch, including the Global Project Director in Geneva, Ninni Ikkala Nyman. Since 2018, the Jamaica Red Cross has been working with The Nature Conservancy to implement the Resilient Islands Project in this community, described as the largest fishing community on the island. This will continue, while two additional communities to be selected for the US$515,000 three-year project.
At the start, Jamaica Red Cross President Hope Munroe said the goal of the project – and the JRC in general – was to “alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable people in our local communities.” Mr. Ariel Kestens, Head of the Caribbean Cluster Delegation for the 192-member International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Port of Spain, Trinidad, pointed out that the alarming decline of Nature undermines our societies and our wellbeing. This is clear. The IFRC has set itself a deadline of 2025 to fully integrate this concept into their programs.
Mr. Kestens’ colleague in Geneva, Ninni Ikkala Nyman, noted that nature-based solutions are “an emerging area of work in the humanitarian sector.” This seems to have taken a while to sink in. As I have already said, Nature is our friend and ally. She is angry now, quite frankly, as we have abused her over the decades. The relationship has become fractured.
Traditionally, said NEPA’s Anthony McKenzie, “hard” solutions were the preferred method of addressing the threats of disaster in the Caribbean. It is true that have always been building things: walls, boulders, concrete. It all costs billions. But there is another way to deal with the manifestations of climate change. There are economic benefits to nature-based solutions, McKenzie pointed out. He also reported that the Jamaican Government, with support from the World Bank, recently completed its National Guidelines on Coastal Zone Management and Beach Restoration (which Jamaica Environment Trust reviewed here) and its assessment of mangroves – which will play an important role in its national adaptation response to the effects of climate change: storm surge, winds, coastal erosion, and more. What a vital role mangroves play (and how sad it is that some have recently been sacrificed in the name of development; we need to do better).
“For a long time, mankind thought it could tame Nature…Natural processes were seen as hostile. But in fact, Nature had things figured out, all along.”Dr. Barbara Carby
For me, the highlight of the launch event was the keynote address by Dr. Barbara Carby, O.D., retired Director of the Disaster Risk Reduction Centre at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and one of the Caribbean’s leading disaster management experts. Dr. Carby was the stellar Director General of ODPEM for ten years, prior to moving up to UWI. Her press briefings, ahead of hovering hurricanes and after floods and landslides, were marvelously informative and reassuring, as we all tried to come to grips with the ever-growing presence of climate change. She was as calm and clear as ever as she explained how rivers coped with excess rainfall – “then along comes man,” building in flood plains. Maintaining wetlands, which store water and release it slowly, mitigating flooding; protecting coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove stands are important as nurseries and habitats for fish. And will benefit us humans, too.
Ways to involve the Old Harbour community – all ages and walks of life – were discussed by some of the participants at the end of the launch. This is absolutely critical. Community members must understand the goals of the project and not just learn, but impart their own local knowledge. What is more, they must take ownership.
Otherwise, the Eco-DRR Project will be just another funded project, arriving for a couple of years, and then gradually fading away. This must be long term. And why not, as one participant suggested, involve basic school children? Little kids love hands-on projects. Dr. Carby suggested cartoons and coloring books. I think they might also like to go out there in the sticky mud and plant a mangrove tree (with adult help, of course!) Why not get the young man “on the corner” excited about the environment, through youth clubs and other groups?
Dr. Carby talked about “impact,” including knowledge management. How will the project share knowledge and best practices with other communities, outside Old Harbour Bay? There are environment, climate change, and disaster reduction networks that can expand its reach, she said. Exchanging and sharing information (local knowledge resident in communities, whether from tradition or experience) could form a solid pillar, helping to build a database. There is a “knowledge gap” in this area, she noted. This would be a truly valuable aspect of the Eco-DRR Project, she suggested – a mobile app could be developed. This is a great way of connecting people.
“Thankfully, we seem to be coming to our senses,” said Dr. Carby wryly. We have realized that “it is far better to work with Nature than to fight Nature.”
It’s a win-win solution, Dr. Carby added. I have to agree, and I wish the Jamaica Red Cross – and the people of Old Harbour Bay – every success in this project.