Carlotta: Reminder for G20 and Rio+20 of what vulnerable people face each year

Op-Ed from GAIN Founding CEO Dr. Juan José Daboub

Umbrella Day

There is nothing more convincing to people than facing risk themselves. 

Last week as world leaders prepared for the start of the G20 Summit, an even more real event – a natural disaster – approached the host country of Mexico. The annual G20 Summit occurred June 18-19 and as that date approached, so did Hurricane Carlotta in its descent on Mexico and Central America.

Even though Carlotta didn’t hit land with the expected strength, G20 leaders had to ‘adapt’ their traveling and accommodation plans accordingly. This is as close as many under the same ‘paraguas’ (the Spanish word for umbrella) have come to feeling what the most vulnerable people feel most frequently. A hurricane can cause severe damage to communities and their livelihoods. Yet, when it comes to policy-making and enabling the environment for investments from the private sector to reduce vulnerabilities, country leaders sometimes forget these events. 

Maybe this is nature’s way of ensuring adaptation to weather events be put at the top of the agenda. These leaders’ ‘paraguas’ can only shield rain temporarily, and President Obama, France’s President Francois Hollande, and a few others must consider a larger umbrella moving forward to protect their citizens – one based on fiscal responsibility, private sector job creation, competitiveness and sustainability. 

By the same token, at Rio+20 more talk than action has been taking place. The best way of building resilience is through “wealth creation” – when citizens are wealthier, they become more adept to prepare and adjust to the effects of these weather events. It is these natural events that should incentivize leaders to understand that economic freedom, fiscal responsibility, open markets, rule of law and access to knowledge are key for the future of their people. We can only hope that when considering the vulnerabilities many people face each year that these leaders will realize that an opportunity for a job is more dignifying and long lasting than, for example, a bag of food and a ‘paraguas’. Sadly, I do not expect the G20 nor Rio+20 to go in this direction. 

A call to action for world leaders: minimize regulation, maximize competition. Prioritize investments in creating opportunities for people to take destiny into their own hands and think about the next generation, not the next election.

Other hurricanes and natural events in the region this year will likely pose a threat to Mexico and Central American countries such as my home country of El Salvador. Severe impacts on these regions depending on coastal protection and infrastructure can cost many lives and destroy livelihoods. Even though hurricanes cannot be precisely predicted, it’s known that tropical storms and hurricanes will hit Mexico and Central America every year, in the same way that droughts or floodings hit Australia and many other countries in the world. Decision makers in the public and private sectors must ask themselves, what are countries doing to protect their citizens? What kind of investments are taking place? Whose responsibility is it to build resilience against these events? 

At the Global Adaptation Institute (GAIN), we have developed the GAIN Index (index.gain.org), which shows a country’s vulnerability to the effects of these kinds of events. This navigation tool helps shape decisions to minimize the impact of vulnerabilities that nations have. It invites the private sector to work with civil society and governments in long-term sustainable solutions. The GAIN Index identifies areas of priority, in order to take action immediately.

The world is changing. Today’s world leaders have the opportunity, the ability and the responsibility to remove obstacles that are impeding people to prosper; they need to start at home where many of them have chosen a path of interventionism instead of freedom. When individuals have liberty with responsibility they innovate and create. Innovation and creativeness will not these natural events, but will reduce its impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.