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Secretary-General calls for taskforce on natural disasters

19 September 2017

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland is convening a group of specialists from across the Commonwealth to examine how to “coordinate, create and shape a task force” to assist with mobilising international assistance to provide protection and assistance with recovery from the impact of violent storms and similar emergencies.  

In a statement submitted to the UN High-level Meeting on Hurricane Irma at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Secretary-General spoke of the value of Commonwealth solidarity and support for vulnerable countries affected by such extreme weather events.

Secretary-General Scotland said that intergovernmental cooperation through organisations such as the Commonwealth and United Nations helped with cohesive contingency planning.

She said, “Our work includes assisting with financial flows, with debt management, and with access to funds through our Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub. The Commonwealth carries forward vital work to advance integration and cooperation within the Caribbean region and to strengthen links with the wider international community. This means the needs of vulnerable nations and communities such as those affected by Hurricane Irma are addressed.

“I am currently convening a group of specialists from across the Commonwealth to examine how we can respond even better as a Commonwealth family to coordinate the responses that are so urgently needed. I hope that together we will be able to coordinate, create and shape a task force. So by the time we are called upon again to respond, we will have a cohesive contingency plan, with access to humanitarian and financial resources that can be rapidly mobilised, to protect, save and give succour to all who are in need of help and support.”

This afternoon the Secretary-General expressed solidarity with Dominica, which was battered by Hurricane Maria last night. The country is still recuperating from the brutal attack of storm Erica, which wiped out 90 percent of its GDP two years ago.

She said, “It is with a heavy heart that I pick up my pen to once again write words of comfort, support and condolences to a country ravished by the unrestrained rage of nature. This time it is Dominica, the land of my birth.

“In my ear, I hear the echo of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s words – “mind boggling” … “devastating”. As his own roof was ripped off, he expressed his greatest fears and the fact that he was "at the complete mercy of the hurricane".   My relatives, my close friends and my Commonwealth family have been widely affected by the brutality of the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean, so for me, this is a personal tragedy. 

“It is only a matter of days since I started working to rally Commonwealth and other international relief for those affected by the trail of destruction left by Hurricane Irma in Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, The Bahamas, several British Overseas Territories, the Dominican Republic and the USA. Shortly before that I was mourning the death of the hundreds who perished in the deadly mudslide in Sierra Leone. 

“Now I am saying to the government and the people of Dominica that we are in this together. Your pain is my pain, your worry is my worry, and the Commonwealth family is right there beside you. I stand by the pledge of allegiance to Dominica I have made time and again, and the promise ‘to work diligently and to help build a prosperous and peaceful Nation’.”