Keeping the Caribbean safe

Meet Marlon Clarke, Technical Coordinator, UNDP Barbados and Organization of Eastern Caribbean States

From an early age, Marlon wanted to help people in emergencies. Today, his work saves lives in Barbados and the Caribbean.

What do you do at UNDP?

UNDP has projects that help countries and communities manage risks of natural hazards. My job is to put those projects into action. That means creating strategic plans like school emergency operations plans, monitoring, measuring, and evaluating current projects and then reporting back on the results.

How does your specific project change the lives of people in the Caribbean?

Making sure the public knows how to act in the case of hazards is Marlon’s number one priority.

Most people who live in an area at risk of natural hazards actually don’t know it. They only find out their family, their job, and everything they’ve worked for is in danger when it’s too late and a flood or other natural force has resulted in great losses for them.

My work helps people to identify and understand the risks they’re facing. Knowing exactly what they’re up against makes it easier for people to make specific changes in their lives to protect themselves. Then, when disaster strikes, they know how to react and are able to save their lives and livelihoods.

What are the major disaster risks in your region?

The Caribbean is one of the most hazard prone regions of the world. We’re constantly hit with nature’s force — whether it’s in form of droughts, floods, hurricanes, landslides, volcano eruptions, earthquakes, or tsunamis.

People here are very vulnerable to these hazards. Between regional challenges like income inequality and debt, as well as eroding infrastructure and an exploited environment, they have enough things to worry about already. Taking the time and resources to prepare for environmental hazards that might affect them at some point in the future is not their number one priority, because they are busy thinking about the next day and the day after that. That’s why communities end up being under-prepared. And that’s why UNDP’s work to support these people is so important.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Many islands in the Caribbean are exposed to a wide array of natural hazards.

When I was little, I wanted to be a firefighter. I’ve always had an affinity to help people in emergencies.

Then in 2007, Barbados almost got hit by a tropical system but instead of preparing themselves and their families for a possible natural hazard, people starting calling the radio stations complaining about businesses being closed. I found that very puzzling. Why would people care about the store hours when their very existence could be at risk? I figured this could only be because they didn’t realize how serious this storm was and how it could effect their very lives. That’s what sparked my interest to educate communities about the disaster risks they’re facing and to prepare them for the worst-case scenario with the tools they have available.

What’s the most memorable thing about disasters?

Emergencies break down barriers between people. Suddenly the most important thing is survival. People who would never even talk to each other in their daily lives because of their different political, cultural, religious, or financial positions, end up putting their differences aside and helping each other out. In the end we’re all just humans and we should work together to save our species instead of working against each other.

What is one useful item you would take with you during a disaster?

I always have an emergency kit ready. This should contain a small radio, some water, canned food that can last a few days, basic medical supplies and important documents, like your passport or some other form of identification. If there’s no electricity or running water, this kit can save your life and help your rescue.