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JIS News

Jamaica is vulnerable to natural and human related disasters, such as earthquakes, fires and hurricanes, and their impact on the social and economic fabric of the society can be devastating.
As a result of this, the hazard management programme in the country had been response-driven. Today, however, the programme has evolved to ensure that measures are put in place to avoid or limit the effects of hazards on the country.
This has been legally set in the country’s regulatory bodies with the National Hazard Mitigation Policy, developed by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), in conjunction with various agencies.
Michelle Edwards, Senior Director of Mitigation, Planning and Research at the ODPEM tells JIS News that the policy provides a frame- work for integrating hazard mitigation into all policies, programmes and plans at the national and community levels.
“We want to address hazard mitigation right from the top to the bottom, and the reason for this is because we have a reasonably good response mechanism in place. Where hazards are concerned, we need to do more work in that area and build on community disaster management. So the hazard mitigation policy and framework was designed to help us to do that,” Ms. Edward says.
She adds that the policy seeks to set out broad goals and guiding principles for hazard risk reduction and this, she says, will form the development of national mitigation plans.
“So, from the policy, we should be able to develop hazard mitigation plans that will guide the roles of the different agencies and see what we can do to address hazards before they become disasters,” the Senior Director explains.
She notes that the vision of a hazard mitigation policy is to have a society where hazard mitigation will be an integral part of everyday life.
“So, just like when we see the sky set up to rain, we become instantly alert to the possibility of having a flood event, so we call the ODPEM. We want hazard mitigation to do the same thing. So, anybody sees somebody cutting down trees in the forests or poor development in areas that are vulnerable to hazards, they will make the necessary calls and alert the necessary persons that need to be alerted,” Ms. Edwards says.
According to the policy, Hazard Risk Reduction is the development and application of policies, procedures and capacities by the society and communities to lessen the negative impact of possible natural hazards and related environmental and man-made disasters.
These include structural and non-structural measures to avoid or to limit adverse impact of hazards, and the development of coping capabilities.
The main goals of the policy are to contribute to national sustainable development objectives through hazard-vulnerability reduction; to minimize physical, economic and social dislocations through hazard-risk reduction strategies; and to incorporate hazard-risk reduction strategies into everyday activities of all Jamaicans.
“We want hazards to be on everybody’s finger tips. We want it to reach the stage where, while you are in school and you are doing geography and learning about rivers, then you will automatically know what hazards are associated with them and exactly the functions of rivers, even some of the damage that they can cause if you live in their paths,” Ms. Edwards tells JIS News.
Meanwhile, the Senior Director informs that communities must be actively engaged in national-level mitigation plans and programmes.
“Persons in communities are the first responders during hazard impacts and will remain active throughout the recovery period. Repeated hazard impacts have fostered a wealth of experience and coping mechanisms that have allowed these communities to rebound with minimal intervention from government and other external resources,” she explains.
According to the Policy, “community groups represent valuable constituents for support and co-operation in achieving success in the implementation of risk-reduction activities. Involving the community through the building of partnerships is the most effective means of implementing measures to reduce the impacts of hazards. Partnerships will therefore have to be built among the public sector, the private sector and the various communities.”
In terms of the next stage, Ms. Edwards points out that an action plan was recently created to take the policy to the next level.
“An action plan will basically spell out in more detail some of the priority areas (of the policy), and what are the activities to be accomplished under those priority areas,” she notes.
Ms. Edwards further explains that an action plan is a framework for the agencies involved in disaster mitigation to actually develop their own detailed programme areas, to look at how they can mainstream disaster mitigation within their different everyday activities.
“This is where we will start to see some real work, the policy being articulated,” she adds.
Meanwhile, the Director highlights the importance for all Jamaicans to be concerned about hazards and the environment in which we live.
“We live here and the environment is here with us. It also exists and so it is important for us to learn how to manage the resource and to manage the hazards, so that we can have something to look forward to tomorrow,” Ms. Edwards says.
The National Mitigation Policy for Jamaica was prepared by a multi-agency Policy Development Committee (PCC), spearheaded by the then Ministry of Land and Environment, and comprising representatives from the ODPEM, the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the Water Resources Authority (WRA), the National Works Agency (NWA), and the Meteorological Service.