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Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture, Dr. Donald Rhodd has stressed that Jamaicans must take responsibility to reduce the impact of natural disasters on the environment and consequently their lives, by engaging in environmentally friendly activities and utilizing proper disaster preparedness techniques.
Speaking at a Labour Day press briefing at the Knutsford Court Hotel, yesterday (May 9), the State Minister noted that while there were some disasters that could not be prevented, “we can, based on preparative measures, mitigate the impact of these disasters”.
“Many (disasters) are the result of the vicissitudes of nature, as we are geographically located in a tropical zone that is prone to such natural disasters as hurricanes and earthquakes,” he noted.
“We must, however, consider those disasters that are caused by the negligence and improper habits of our people, such as improper garbage disposal and the cutting down of trees.we are therefore called upon to prepare for those we can expect as well as those that are unexpected,” Dr. Rhodd added.
Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) Dr. Barbara Carby, underscored the State Minister’s view, while making reference to the recent floods in St. James.
“It was announced that after the recent flooding in St. James, 120 tons of silt and debris were removed from roads and drains. and that silt and debris are coming off our hillsides, as a result of the removal of trees,” she pointed out.
“If we do not emphasize risk reduction, then going forward from here, we will always be recovering from some disaster. The only way we can guarantee that we have adequate national resilience, and that the hazards we face do not become disasters, is if we decide to take risk reduction seriously,” Dr. Carby noted.
It is in this vein that the Ministry of Education is focusing on disaster preparedness for Labour Day this year, under the theme – ‘Prepare for Disaster: Recover Faster’.
As a result, the Ministry has embarked on a number of strategies designed to make the theme become practical. In this regard, the Buena Vesta Community Centre in St. Elizabeth will be refurbished and established as a ‘model’ disaster shelter.
The $8.5 million project will see a number of improvements, such as the replacement of its zinc roof with slab, installation of a standby generator, installation of a First Aid Kit, and refurbishing of the existing water tank.
According to Dr. Rhodd, the move by the government to equip the Buena Vesta Community Centre and declaring it a designated shelter, was a step in the direction of finding alternative accommodation and using them as shelters instead of schools.
“Hazard prevention should be viewed as yet another way of protecting our children,” Dr. Rhodd noted. “And I wish to discourage the use of school buildings for disaster relief.and we urge all citizens to make full use of community centres and other available spaces, so that our children’s education would not be disrupted or jeopardized,” he added.
The Minister noted that the shifting of accommodation for disaster relief would not be done “overnight”, but would be a process that would require the support of communities across the island.