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KINGSTON — Jamaica is susceptible to a number of natural hazards, particularly tropical storms and hurricanes, which often leave the country devastated, and faced with the task of rehabilitating and rebuilding infrastructure following the passage of these events.

The country has felt the full effects ofmajor weather systems, such as Hurricanes Ivan and Charley in 2004, Dennis and Emily in 2005, Dean in 2007, and Tropical Storms Gustav in 2008 and Nicole in 2010, which caused extensive damage in various sections of the island.

Mindful of the impact that these natural disasters have had on the island, the Government has spearheaded, through the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), a coastal multi-hazard mapping and vulnerability assessment study, as part of efforts to reduce the impact of natural hazards.

Funded by a technical assistance grant from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, an agency of the World Bank, the study was initiated to complete multi-hazard assessments and develop multi-hazard maps; carry out vulnerability and risk assessments; andproduce disaster/ risk management plans for three hazard-prone communities, located in Clarendon, St. Thomas and Portland.

Speaking at a Disaster Preparedness Month press briefing at the beginning of June, Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Ronald Jackson, noted that according to the PIOJ’s vulnerability index, the country is ranked extremely high as one of the areas most vulnerable to natural disasters.

He pointed out that over the years; the country has been continuously challenged with the occurrence of major natural disasters, which lead to loss of lives and the diversion of scarce resources in recovering from these events.

“Between 2002 and 2007, we had three major hurricanes, six storms, with several flood events, resulting in $70.7 billion (in losses). When we look at the last decade, the average is roughly about $14 billion in losses. If you look at the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) impact, we are talking about an average of 3.2 per cent of GDP,” he pointed out, adding that in the last decade 87 Jamaicans have died as a result of these events.

Certain areas in Jamaica are also vulnerable to flooding, land slippage, storm surge and wind damage, which Mr. Jackson attributed to the fact that many communities are located in flood plains, on steep slopes and along the coastlines.

This, coupled with destruction of coral reefs, improper farming techniques, removal of the vegetation and forest cover, improper waste disposal and poor land use practices, “have exacerbated the effects of the disasters and natural hazards which we face,” Mr. Jackson said.

Pointing to the significance of the project, Mr. Jackson noted that the multi-hazard maps created and the hazard vulnerability and risk assessments conducted under the study are critical tools for development decision-making.

“They are going to be useful at the local authority level and for any developer who seeks to go into any of these areas and parishes to build. It is supposed to be that tool that will guide planning and decision making at the local authority level,” he said.

A national stakeholder workshop was held last week to present and discuss the findings of the study, entitled:  ‘Coastal Multi-Hazard Mapping and Vulnerability Assessments -Towards Integrated Planning and Reduction of Vulnerabilityfor Portland Cottage, Morant Bay and Manchioneal’.

Carried out over a two-year period, in the communities located in Clarendon, St. Thomas and Portland, respectively, the study seeks to help residents develop and prepare adaptation strategies, and to improve the capacity of the communities to manage the impact of severe weather events often associated with long-term cyclical phenomena and/or climate change.

As these particular coastal communities suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the PIOJ selected these sites for detailed investigation.

Speaking atthe workshop, Director for the Social Policy, Planning and Research Division of the PIOJ, Claire Bernard, noted that the survey process also involved the hosting of three community workshops, involving about 150 residents and presentation of copies of the reports and the hazard maps to local libraries and Parish Councils.

“Importantly, planners, developers and residents will have access to the reports and the maps through the websites of all the critical agencies. The intention is that the standards used by the project will be replicated in similar work for other communities,” she said.

Miss Bernard noted that the national stakeholder workshop was part of the knowledge management element of the project, providing an important input for the disaster risk atlas.

“This particular element includes hazard analysis and vulnerability assessment; determining the risk profile; and the development of standardised hazard maps for the three communities,” she informed.

The project is particularly significant as the country prepares for another active hurricane season, following last year’s, which was recorded as the second most active season.

According to Acting Director of the National Meteorological Service, Dervan Thompson, the Atlantic Basin, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the North Atlantic Ocean, saw a high level of activity associated with last year’s hurricane season.

“There were 19 tropical storms, 12 hurricanes, with five of these hurricanes reaching at least a category three status. This would compare with what we call the normal/average year that would have just about 10 tropical storms developing. Of these, just about six becoming hurricanes, and of these, just two to three becoming major hurricanes,” he said.

Citing the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data, Mr. Thompson informed that between 12 and 18 named tropical storms are expected to develop this hurricane season.

“From these we could see six to 10 becoming hurricanes and of these, between three and six are likely to be major hurricanes (categories three, four and five on the Saffir-Simpson Wind scale),” he noted.

As stated in the final report of the study, a hazard and vulnerability analysis was conducted for the three communities. The hazards examined included: storm surge, river flooding, seismic activity, landslides, and storm winds. The vulnerability analysis examined the impact of those hazards on the housing stock and critical facilities in each of the towns.

According to the report, the analyses have shown that all three communities are susceptible to storm surge, but Portland Cottage is the most vulnerable, since it is subject to the highest storm surge of the three sites and is characterised by low-lying land.

“For the river flooding hazard, Morant Bay is the most susceptible town, as Morant River is capable of flooding its banks in the area south of the Bustamante Bridge. All three towns are susceptible to seismic hazard, whereas all are at relatively low risk of landslide threat. Finally, all sites are susceptible to wind hazard,” the report read.

The report further recommended priorities for action that will potentially benefit the communities, which should include making disaster risk reduction a priority at the parish level.

Hazard and vulnerability maps should be used to guide community participation in risk reduction initiatives and collaboration among the key stakeholders, for example,  ODPEM, Parish Councils, Parish Disaster Committees (PDCs) and other community groups, the report read.

It was further suggested that the subject of disaster risk reduction be included in formal, non-formal, and informal education and training activities; an early warning system should be developed for high risk areas in the parishes. Additionally, it was advised that mechanisms for dialogue with partner agencies be established at the community level, as participation is essential for an effective system.

The report recommended that all three communities studied are selected as pilots for establishing a social vulnerability index, based on a broad range of specific vulnerability indicators. The results should then be used to develop appropriate mitigation strategies for other coastal communities.

“The results of these pilots can contribute to the mainstreaming of these strategies across parishes, but also point to an important methodological approach (that is, the use of vulnerability indicators) in building a framework for inter-sectoral mainstreaming,” the report read.

Other recommendations of the report are to develop and implement programmes on basic wetland protection and management where necessary, targeting particularly the fisher folk and residents in coastal communities; develop effective parish-wide preparedness programmes that also address small, medium and large-scale disasters. This should include evacuation planning and drills at individual community levels, so that a culture of acceptance and responsiveness is inculcated.

“People tend to build and reside in areas where they can have access to utilities, particularly electricity… Utilities being brought under tighter regulatory control, as a means of discouraging development and settlement in hazard prone areas, is a possible new regulatory deterrent that could be investigated,” it further suggested.

The study was carried out with  technical input from the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF); ODPEM; Mines and Geology Division; Water Resources Authority (WRA); National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA); Social Development Commission (SDC); Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM);National Land Agency (NLA); and contribution from a number of non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Smith Warner International, which provides coastal consulting services for the Caribbean, undertook the project on behalf of the Government in association with Fluid Systems Engineering Ltd; MonaGIS; Peter Jervis and Associates Limited; and Environmental Solutions Limited.

June 1 marked the start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season and is being observed in Jamaica as Disaster Preparedness Month, under the theme: ‘Building Disaster Resilience…Our First Line of Defence’.

 

By ALECIA SMITH, JIS Reporter