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Message from OAS Secretary General after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria

  September 23, 2017

These past few weeks have been extremely difficult for several OAS Member States who have been hit by 3 hurricanes in quick succession - Harvey, Irma and Maria. They have affected several islands in the Caribbean, especially Barbuda, in the twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda, and the Commonwealth of Dominica, Puerto Rico, Florida and large parts of Houston, in the United States. These disasters have claimed many lives and caused billions of dollars of damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure.

I take this opportunity to convey, on behalf of the entire OAS family, and on my own behalf, our deepest sympathies to the Governments and people of the affected countries. I want to assure you that the OAS stands in solidarity with you at this very difficult time in your history.

The scenes of hardship and horror that we have seen on social media about these events are real and disturbing. Apart from the reality of the immediate challenge of feeding, clothing and housing the displaced population, there is the difficult road that lies ahead for the Government and people of these countries as they try to bring some normalcy back to their lives.

Clearly, it will be far more challenging for some countries than others to recover from their tragic situations.

In particular, for the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, their development will be severely disrupted as they are forced to rebuild damaged social and economic infrastructure. This at a time when they would have preferred to be focusing on new investments to build secure livelihoods for their people.

If there was any doubt before, these extreme weather events have helped to strengthen the view that global climate change needs to be addressed with urgency, vigor and purpose.

The OAS has long recognized, with grave concern, that the Latin American and Caribbean region represents one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the adverse impacts of climate change. We also recognize that within this region, many developing small island and low-lying coastal states face a grave threat to their survival and viability from climate change and sea level rise.

Vulnerable people in the Caribbean and other small island developing states around the world do not have the luxury of treating global climate change like a "political football." For them, there is no argument with the findings of scientists that over the past decade, storms and hurricanes have become stronger and more frequent and that sea surface temperatures have gotten warmer. And so, being largely a coastal people, they have good reason to be concerned about the predictions by scientists that things will only get worse.

The region's slogan, "1.5 to stay alive", which was used at the last Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention in Paris, is entirely consistent with the science which indicates that vital ecosystems will not survive at higher temperatures.

The region knows that, unless strong and irrevocable action is taken to curb global warming, the extreme weather experienced over the past decade will likely increase in intensity and frequency.

But curbing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and climate change is only one part of the solution. These countries do not have the resources to adapt their infrastructure to deal with the impacts of climate change. And they should not be expected to carry the burden of this adjustment, as they are not the cause of the problem. They will need sustained financial and technical help, and those who are the cause of the problem have a moral obligation to provide that assistance.

We all need to take ownership of the problem, and we need to act.

First, as many world leaders have remarked these past days at the United Nations General Assembly, the Paris Climate Agreement is the right framework to tackle the issue of Climate Change once and for all. I urge all world countries and leaders to join this universal call to action. We must make this Agreement work, not only for us, but above all, for future generations.

Also, we must improve coordination among ourselves. Following a mandate from the recent OAS General Assembly in Mexico, a high-level session of OAS bodies will be convened to discuss the "Security Implications of Climate Change". I expect this session will result in a strong commitment among Member States to work together to define what the Organization can and must do.

Also, I expect a call to work in collaboration with relevant regional and international financial and technical organizations that are involved in addressing climate change. That includes all relevant United Nations Agencies, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank. Also the Climate Change Centres for the Latin American region and its sub-regions, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, as well as civil society.

Swift action is also needed to strengthen capacity to manage all types of disaster risk in our hemisphere. This is why, since taking up duties as Secretary General, I have issued an Executive Order to ensure that disaster risk management is mainstreamed in all projects and programs within the General Secretariat. I encourage other agencies to explore a similar path.

The time for dialogue has passed. This is now time for action. All those suffering the fury of nature are looking upon us for help. We owe it to them.

Reference: S-029/17