By Kenton X. Chance
BALI, Indonesia (CMC) — The Third Caribbean Ministerial Forum on School Safety, which was postponed from last year because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, will be held in St. Maarten next month.
External relations officer at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Regional Office – The Americas and the Caribbean, Saskia Carusi, said the main focus of June 28-30 event will be on reaffirming commitments from the ministries of Education to work in towards the safe schools.
“And now with the COVID pandemic, it’s even more relevant because we saw how this crisis affected the education sector really significantly. So that will be for sure one of the topics of conversation,” Carusi told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which wrapped up here on Friday.
To date, 18 countries from the Caribbean, both from Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) member countries, CARICOM member states as well as Cuba, and the Dominican Republic have signed up the declaration as part of the Caribbean Safe Schools Initiative (CSSI).
CSSI was launched in April 2017 during the First Caribbean Ministerial Forum on School Safety and is the suggested framework to advance school safety in the Caribbean.
The initiative is the Caribbean’s contribution to the Worldwide-Initiative on Safe Schools and is a partnership for advancing safe school implementation at the national level among Caribbean countries.
“And this is kind of the Caribbean commitment towards that global initiative. So, this is a specific initiative of the Caribbean,” Carusi said.
“So it takes into account very specific challenges, small island development states, the climate risk, how does it fit within the comprehensive disaster management strategy of CDEMA…”
Next month’s meeting follows up on the Regional Review on School Safety in the context of Systemic Risk: The Virtual Caribbean Safe School Initiative Pre-Ministerial Forum, held online in March 2021.
Carusi told CMC that the ministerial forum is part of efforts to strengthen continually the relation between the ministries of education and disaster management agencies in the Caribbean, as the region is especially vulnerable to multiple threats.
“We have climate risks, which are increasing; we have tsunamis, earthquakes, and also COVID. Then there are also technological hazards and other safety issues that can happen. “So, the Safe School agenda hasn’t been as relevant as us today,” Carusi said.
The initiative includes a roadmap where education ministers will commit to and decide on concrete actions before each forum.
“This roadmap is monitored to see advances. We know, for example, that now most Caribbean countries have a unit or persons specifically responsible for safe schools. So that is already a very good starting point,” Carusi told CMC.
One of the achievements so far is that ministries for education have specific disaster risk reduction plans to start working.
“So now that we have achieved this, we need to keep improving,” Carusi said, adding that an area that still needs improvement is resilient infrastructure, adding that the discussion here this week shows this to be even more relevant and important.
“How do we really strengthen infrastructure not only like physical infrastructure, but also its function? For example, water and sanitation. This is really key to reducing the spread of COVID. So how do we improve water and sanitation? How do we guarantee that services are not interrupted at school? And how do we guarantee the schools keep functioning when an event happens and that service is not disrupted?”
Carusi said the forum does not capture issues relating to violence in and at school “because that has specific elements.
“For sure, this will come up at the forum because it’s a wider understanding of safety, even if, in this case, is more towards disaster risks. But it will surely come up because this is a sensitive issue and it’s a priority,” said, noting that the event will be held in-person, unlike the March 2021 gathering.
“St. Maarten is ready to host us. We have a very good number of confirmations already from mostly ministers some summit delegates, parliamentary secretaries who will be attending — ministers who are already part of the initiative but we also have ministers who are not yet part of the initiative, like Trinidad and Tobago, for example, who will then take the opportunity, we hope, to join this.”