ODPEM to Maintain Focus on Informal Settlements


Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Ronald Jackson, has said that the agency will be maintaining focus on the problem of informal settlements, during the current hurricane season.
He said that this is an issue that ODPEM has been working to assist in resolving for some time, having undertaken the relocation of displaced informal settlers in the aftermath of a hurricane or severe weather, as a mitigation priority.
Addressing a press conference, held at Jamaica House on June 1 to launch Disaster Preparedness Month, Mr. Jackson said that it was found that the persons who were significantly affected during last year’s hurricane season, were informal settlers.
“These individuals live in very sub-standard conditions. The housing types are such that with the slightest puff of wind, the roofing will go or the houses will be destroyed, and that is something that we have identified. We have now looked at it and realised that as a means of mitigation, part of the way going forward has to be treating with relocation as a mitigation priority,” the Director General said.
He noted further that some of the informal settlers who were displaced by Hurricane Dean and Tropical Storm Gustav have already benefitted from several relocation programmes. “I think it has to be programmed as a medium to long-term endeavour, to try and reduce this level of vulnerability which we face in Jamaica,” Mr. Jackson added.
The ODPEM has also been working to define the section of the population that is usually most in need of welfare assistance after disasters. This will be utilised as a basis for ODPEM and other authorities to deal with recovery support after a disaster.
“When the event happens, we go through a wholesale assessment of all the persons who are affected and then try to determine those who should be beneficiaries, but that consumes a lot of time and a lot of resources,” Mr. Jackson explained.
He said that in defining this segment of the population, one would look at those below the poverty line, that are challenged and would normally be a part of the state’s welfare programme, such as the elderly, “who are shut-ins, who have no one caring for them; your disabled population, your farming community, people who have livelihoods which would be challenged by these externalities.”
Mr. Jackson said that based on the lessons learnt from last year’s operations, the ODPEM also recognised the importance of having more pre-impact information. He said access to data can sometimes be challenging, therefore, the ODPEM has begun a programme that will see pre-disaster data being collected, and used to do scenario planning. This will help to guide urban and sector planners, as well as the emergency response and recovery programme after each event.
Disaster Preparedness Month is being observed under the theme: ‘Disasters are Becoming More Intense. Staying Prepared Makes Sense’.
The 2009 Atlantic Hurricane season, which began on June 1, ends on November 30.

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