ODPEM Pilots Strategy for at Risk Communities

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has embarked on a bold new low-cost strategy to reduce the risk of landslides and the threat to life and property posed to persons living in hillside communities that are so affected.

Over the past 20 years, local disasters resulted in cumulative costs of more than US$1 billion. Among the various hazards the country faces, floods and landslides are the most frequently occurring ones, in part due to factors relating to topography, geology and metrological exposure.

Slopes can become more susceptible to landslides through human activities, such as earthworks (cuts and fills), road and building construction, and agriculture, all of which affect slope geometry, vegetation cover, and surface-water or groundwater regime.

The low-cost Landslide Risk-Reduction Strategy is therefore being tested in high-risk landslide impacted communities and is titled the Community Based Landslide Risk Reduction Mitigation Project (CBLRRMP) and could be the standard used in countries across the world where similar risk patterns exist.   

The project utilizes the pioneering Management of Slope Stabilization In Communities (MoSSIC) methodology, developed by Hydrologist and Geologist, Professor Malcolm Anderson and Dr Elizabeth Holcombe of the University of Bristol in England.  It has received funding support through a grant from the Japanese Social Development Fund, an affiliate of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank)in the sum of US$2.375million. 

“The World Bank thought it was a good idea to reduce landslide risk at low cost and have complete community engagement in that process. So the World Bank was quite attracted by that because it meant that most of the funds go into the community in terms of for the labour or for the materials,” notes Professor Anderson.

The World Bank, he further states, sees the project, if successful, as something that could be rolled out in other parts of the world where there are serious landslide problems.

Hence Jamaica’s use as a ‘pilot’ on such a wide scale, aside from a small test case scenario, in St. Lucia, is crucial. 

The pilot is to be executed in four communities across the island, using stipulated guidelines.  Before the MoSSIC project was selected, however, several other strategies were considered by the ODPEM.

Director General of the ODPE, Ronald Jackson; explains that that the agency had been actively assessing different approaches and methods aimed at reducing landslide risks.

“So we’ve been looking at a lot of approaches to reducing landslide risks, looking at using Vetiver grass and other natural and man-made approaches and systems,” he says.

He further explains that the selection of the pioneering MoSSIC methodology was a simple and straightforward decision and could be considered as reaching for a ‘low hanging fruit’.

“The Japanese Social Development Fund provided ‘seed’ money through the world bank for the MoSSIC method, which has already been tried in other countries.  He said having looked at all the other approaches ODPEM was able to attract support to try the MoSSIC methodology from the Japanese and the World Bank,” he says.

World Bank Representative, Maricarmen Esquivel, says the project, the first of its kind for the English-speaking Caribbean, will add value to Harbour Heights, one of the communities selected to be the test case for the MoSSIC methodology in Jamaica.

“It is very exciting to see all the excellent work and the community spirit so I am taking that (back) with me. It’s been an honour to be among you. So congratulations and I really am looking forward to the success of the project,” she says.

Community Mapping Process

The MoSSIC strategy uses a simple implementation formula, in which a process called ‘Community Mapping’ is utilized.  It involved members of the MoSSIC team, members of the ODPEM and of the community walking through the areas, with community members pointing out the locations where they get a lot of water, where the water goes, where the landslides occur,  and where houses might have been lost due to landslides. From that information a map is then plotted with GPS data. 

Decisions are then made, in conjunction with the community, regarding where to put drain networks and gullies that would stop the water saturating the soil, especially near homes, thereby reducing the risk of landslides.

The MoSSIC methodology is not used where slope faces are steep. Instead, it capitalizes on what is known as ‘slope dewatering’.    Mr. Jackson explains that water is the primary source or trigger for many slope failures, hence the strategy used would ensure that less rainfall gets into the sub-surface and triggers that failure.

For the MoSSIC methodology project to work as a pilot some set criteria had to be observed. These include certain living, geological, geographical and technical conditions.  Two out of a total of four communities have already been selected to be the test case for the MoSSIC methodology here in Jamaica.  These are Harbour Heights, a community overlooking Harbour View and Melbrook Heights situated east of Harbour Heights. Both are regularized informal settlements in East Rural St. Andrew.

Project Coordinator for the ‘Community based landslide Risk Reduction Project’ at the ODPEM, Kirk Frankson tells JIS News that Harbour Heights, a former Operation Pride settlement was chosen because it met the criteria of hosting a compact settlement area where persons living were at risk.

The mitigation project he explained will include plotting (with the aid of GPS technology and local ‘lay-of-the-land knowledge)an intricate network of strategically placed drains, gutters and channels.  “We’ve actually completed the process of creating the community map, the community hazard map and are completing a proposed drainage plan.  We’ve engaged the community in several sensitization sessions and workshops,” Mr. Frankson says.

Professor Malcolm Anderson, along with Dr Elizabeth Holcombe of the University of Bristol in England who both pioneered the Management of Slope Stabilization In Communities (MoSSIC) methodology notes that for the strategy to work effectively, critical calculations for the amount of water, the network of drains, gutters and gullies are to accommodate, will have to be carried out to prevent failure of each strategy.  He observes that already people living in the areas have created some drains and gutters of concrete blocks, to lead the water away, a development which he says is crucial and shows that people are already aware of how the strategies can work.

“So we’ve got a sense already of the flow from the slopes that exist at the moment.  We’ll be increasing them a little bit more because we’ll be capturing more much water. There are some simple calculations we have to do to determine how much water to expect and what size drains we will need. Clearly some residents have an idea of what is needed as there hasn’t been any overflow,” he points out.

A sum of $50 million has been budgeted for each of the two already selected pilots, which is part of the US$2.375million grant from the World Bank to ODPEM to execute the CBLRRP strategy.  The erection of the mapped network of drains, gutters, channels and rainwater harvesting systems will create a pool of natural hazard interventions. 

The works programme in Harbour Heights, projected to start in April 2012 and run for six months, shouldreduce the high risk factor of natural disasters that normally impact the selected vulnerable communities.

Local Labour to be Used

One key element of the project, Mr. Frankson says, is the utilisation of local labour, through an internal community contractual strategy, which will be overseen by a committee of residents to maintain transparency and balance, while ensuring quality.

“So, we’ll be doing significant community-based contracting, where we create short-term employment for persons in the community and, through a multiplier effect, ensure that the community benefits from the process,” he says.

The ODPEM hopes that the project will garner similar successes in Jamaica, as it did in St. Lucia and Dominica, particularly in the reduction of the cost that is often associated with disaster recovery.

“The first objective is to create a cadre of persons who will become trained and knowledgeable in the MoSSIC methodology. What we want to do is to create a cadre of trainers where we have government officials and persons in academia who are knowledgeable about management of slope stabilisation practices from a new perspective,” he adds.  

Mr. Frankson says a toolkit and short video, as well as brochures and other forms of public awareness tools on MoSSIC will be developed in an effort to increase awareness and knowledge on the strategy. “The toolkit and video will outline best practice for landslide risk reduction and promote safer slope management in vulnerable communities,” he informs.

Mr. Frankson notes that experience has taught that when implementation of projects is done by communities, it creates sustainability for the development, as the residents take some level of responsibility and are more likely to protect and maintain it.

One strategy often used locally as a preventative strategy against slope failure is retaining walls. The ODPEM team however have raised concerns about this. Mr Frankson explains that when a retaining wall is not properly constructed during heavy rainfall there is a water build-up behind the wall which usually leads to failure.  

Research analyst at the ODPEM Christopher Gayle further explains why retaining walls fail.

“Retaining walls; if not constructed properly, act as a dam or a holding mechanism for the water loaded on to the slopes, which then may fail, if adequate provision is not made for draining within the retaining wall.  So we’re saying if you’re looking at cost effectiveness, drainage solutions are better than the more expensive retaining [wall] solutions,” he says.

They add that in many cases the walls are usually thinner than what is required for an ‘adequate’ retaining wall, hence, they bulge, slant, flip or break up from the force of water. The MoSSIC methodology replaces the erection of costly retaining wall structures, extensive land excavation and reshaping exercises and minimizes the need for heavy equipment, factors which usually create pricy mitigation strategies in instances where landslides are caused by heavy rain.

In the meantime, Lead Researcher, Professor Malcolm Anderson, advises that an investment in landslide mitigation measures in some of the country’s most vulnerable communities could save the government significant amounts of money on disaster recovery measures.

“The message that we can bring to the Jamaican government, I think, is that it pays for one to actually think of investing in it. It’s like insurance…if we pay a small amount of money now, we’re actually offsetting the risk which is much greater when you look at the effects of social displacement as well as actual costs,” he says.

Jamaica Susceptible to Disasters

Data from the World Bank’s Natural Disaster Hotspots Report indicate that Jamaica ranks high among the countries most susceptible to disasters. The study shows that 87.7 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 87.7 per cent of its population are in areas at risk from three or more hazards.

At the launch of the pilot in January in Harbour Heights at the Harbour View Open Bible Church, Mr. Frankson, disclosed that the projects were to be driven by each community and would involve the implementation of several micro mitigation measures.

“These projects will benefit critical facilities in Harbour View and its environs and utilises community-based contracting.  It means the community will not only need to own the project, but will need to help drive the activities,” he noted then.

President of the Harbour Heights Citizens Association, Andrew Foster, expressed gratitude to the World Bank and ODPEM, noting that the project will address flooding and landslides in the community.

“Many mornings, we want to go to work, but can’t, because the water is up to our knees, so we feel very proud to have this project in our community.  Now the people can live a better life,” he stated.

Another community member, Joseph Campbell, in bemoaning the problem of washed down debris, mud and blocked roads; said the project would make a significant difference to affected communities when implemented.

“Yeah man; it would be a big help to the community. Yuh have two main drains through the community, down to Harbour drive and block it up and everything get block in from there.  It would be so nice to see the work start and the communities get a chance to build up,” he remarked.  


By O. Rodger Hutchinson, JIS PRO

JIS Social