Commonwealth Local Government Forum

Dominica local government: building resilience

08 August 2023

In line with the theme of the Commonwealth Local Government Conference 2023 - Building resilience in local government - which takes place in November in Kigali, Rwanda, we wanted to take a look at why this issue is so crucial on a very localised and personal level. Please note that you find out more about the conference, inluding how to register, by going to the official conference website.

 

With decades of experience in managing natural disasters and the impacts of climate change, we spoke to Cllr Yoland Jno Jules, Chairperson, Dominica Association of Local Community Authorities (DALCA) and CLGF Board Member. Having served as a councillor for more than four decades, Cllr Jno Jules is very well placed to understand the needs of community members.

Impact of disasters in Dominica

Every Commonwealth country faces a variety of challenges, with the common factor being the vast amount of damage it causes to life, infrastructure and the local and national economy. We wanted to know how serious the problem is in Dominica, a small island developing state (SIDs) where any natural disaster is set to have an enormous impact. Cllr Jno Jules explained that, having experienced the damages of hurricane Erika and Maria which, according to reports, claimed 90% of the island’s housing stock and left approximately 24,000 people vulnerable to food insecurities, the global pandemic was now adding further distress to the already fragile economy. Tremendous support for self-reliant and self-sufficient initiatives is necessary to keep communities afloat.

Collaboration to reduce risk

Currently, the government is putting measures in place to ensure that people can take advantage of the self-reliant opportunities to support their families and strengthen communities. The country’s geographical location and population make it difficult to compete with the larger countries in securing climate finance. As a small island developing state, prudent collaboration is paramount in reducing risk while extending boundaries for support and visibility. He added that, more than ever in this pandemic era, crosscutting synergies for health of the population are essential, given the trauma and financial challenges brought on as a result. Equipment is needed for community health outreach. as well as disaster mitigation and adaptation interventions.

Continuous financial support

While Dominica homeowners’ insurance has been a vital resource in the ‘build back better’ concept and initiatives, most residents are unable to commit to the payment of these premiums and, therefore, unable to benefit from these schemes. Continuous financial support (cash transfers, food stamps etc.) and programmes are needed to support communities and families with financial setbacks and low, or no production opportunities. The Dominica LGA, DALCA, are looking for financial support for programmes and community interventions, to help train and equip local communities for sustainable local economic development, as well as comprehensive disaster management.

Family emergency plan

We asked whether it had been possible to recover from the last hurricane, or are the problems continual, pushing the country back to square one. Cllr Jno Jules was candid in his response and admitted that he is yet to fully recover from the effects of the monstrous hurricane Maria. Although there are opportunities for personal recovery, he explained that collective efforts and consciousness are key and he has been focusing on assisting individuals across the island who are in need of housing or other forms of social support. This has been a continuous scenario with the people of Dominica, due to the geographical location of the island. In most cases, work to develop the country takes place for a few years, but one bad storm takes the country back to square one. He said that the people of Dominica have developed strategies for coping with these occurrences, such as family emergency plans, which allow them to be independent or self-sufficient for 15 days, but this is still not a solution, because Dominica will be affected by these weather patterns for six, uncertain months each year. The problems are not restricted to loss of life, or even loss of buildings and infrastructure, but also damage to the economy, which could take decades to repair and impacts the whole island in so many ways. Cllr Jno Jules explained that it will take time to fully rebuild as a nation, but while continuously preparing for future, unpredictable disasters.

Local government role

Cllr Jno Jules explained how the role of local government translates on a practical basis. Local government authorities are the key agents on the ground, coordinating with the various ministries and departments in data collection (i.e. damage and needs’ assessments); relief distribution; Education / awareness prior and after d disaster etc. Shelter management training and stocktaking is also an integral responsibility of local authorities. Every district has a ‘Disaster Committee’, which also works in collaboration with the councils in every community. This structural framework has been working and has worked in the recovery process. The only exception is the fact that Hurricane Maria took the country by surprise in terms of its intensity in the short timeframe. A lot of residents were also traumatised by the magnitude of damage caused by this hurricane, which required all hands-on deck.

Community input

To reflect the importance of having community input, all communities are an integral part of disaster management initiatives, hence the effectiveness of District disaster committees. This work in communities is funded by external support, for example, from UN donor agencies, collaboration with other countries and the government. Local residents also provide in-kind support to our community interventions.

 

Working with other organisations to develop strategies has been a challenge, he signalled, due to various territorial concerns, but working collaboratively with quite a few organisations has been very useful. He advised that, to date, DALCA is working in communities to prepare and monitor disaster initiatives and data alignment for communities. Like most local government entities, DALCA believes that it is always better to collaborate with other organisations to prevent duplication of effort and misuse of resources.

Impact and outputs

When asked about the impact and outputs of his work, Cllr Jno Jules said that the work has been tremendously impactful across the island over the years. The storm drains constructed in communities have saved lives during Hurricanes Erika and Maria. Education and raising awareness among the disaster committees has been effective in encouraging residents. The data gathered has made it possible to allocate the most vulnerable quickly and make quicker decisions. He said, the nature of our institution is such that a person serves for a 3-year term and is not guaranteed to continuously serve unless they have shown commitment to do so. Therefore, continuous training is essential to keep the relevance of the institution and keep communities informed. Finance is being sought to construct a headquarters to save on the cost of renting facilities to train members and communities.

 

Finally, we asked Cllr Jno Jules what this work means to him as a local politician and why it is such a priority. He said that he has been working with communities for over 40 years and has a passion to continue. At the rate at which the world is transitioning, he believes it is vital to continuously keep people informed and to update data which can inform decision-making with scarce resources. I am therefore dedicated to continue the good work across our communities.

 

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