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Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Land and Environment, Donovan Stanberry said today (October 21), that the Ministry now had the necessary funds to begin working on implementing more effective disaster mitigation strategies.
The Permanent Secretary pointed out that with the available funding, a sustainable environmental assessment policy as well as hazard mitigation measures, including a hazard mitigation policy and unit, would be developed soon and presented to Parliament.
Additionally, he said that a Squatter Mitigation Unit was being developed by the Ministry, as the government sought to create more strategic approaches to disaster preparedness and mitigation.
Mr. Stanberry was speaking at a forum on ‘Strategic Approaches to Disaster Preparedness’, convened by Minister of Information, Senator Burchell Whiteman at Jamaica House today.
“We now have funding to develop disaster preparedness and mitigation plans in some 11 parishes,” Mr. Stanberry informed.
The forum was held in light of the recent impact of Hurricane Wilma on the island, and other related weather formations that have highlighted the country’s fragility and vulnerability to environmental and natural hazards.
Turning to the development of the squatter mitigation unit, Mr. Stanberry noted that the formation of the unit had begun and currently, job descriptions within the unit were being reviewed to immediately deal with this chronic problem.
“We’ve got to move squatter communities as the people in these communities are continually at risk. These communities are also major contributors to environmental degradation and disasters,” he explained.
Mr. Stanberry said that as the government looked to improve its disaster mitigation strategies, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) Act as well as the Meteorological Act would be reviewed and put before Parliament.
“The ODPEM Act will be reviewed to strengthen its capacity to deal with disasters, including forced evacuation and requiring businesses and public entities to have disaster plans,” he emphasised. He added that the Meteorological Act would also be reviewed due to increased natural disasters and the need to lift the profile of the national Meteorological (MET) Office and give “pride of place” to its news releases during times of disasters.
The issuing of mining licences would also be reviewed in order to significantly reduce the incidences of flooding and soil erosion caused by mined out areas.
“We are also looking to increase the value of the restoration bonds on these mining areas so that sufficient funds is available to restore the areas after mining is completed,” Mr. Stanberry said. He pointed out that public awareness programmes to create behavioural changes in the care of the environment would also be increased, with the emphasis on intervention at the community level. “Individuals must take responsibility for their environment and a public awareness programme is key to achieving this,” the Permanent Secretary stressed. Meanwhile, the Ministry will be working closely with agencies, such as the National Works Agency (NWA) and the National Water Resources Authourity (NWRA) in its floodwater control planning. Under this collaboration, the NWRA will be given specific mandate to carry out flood water control planning.