JIS News

Story Highlights

  • The Government of Jamaica is working to ensure that vulnerable groups, such as the disabled, women and girls, are protected, and their needs provided for during emergencies, such as hurricanes.
  • Manager of the Population and Health Unit at the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Toni-Shae Freckleton, says global disaster and gender statistics indicate that following a disaster it is more likely that women will be victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The Government of Jamaica is working to ensure that vulnerable groups, such as the disabled, women and girls, are protected, and their needs provided for during emergencies, such as hurricanes.

Manager of the Population and Health Unit at the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Toni-Shae Freckleton, says global disaster and gender statistics indicate that following a disaster it is more likely that women will be victims of domestic and sexual violence.

“Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men,” she notes further.

Mrs. Freckleton, who was addressing a recent JIS Think Tank, says in times of disasters the needs of the vulnerable population are different and work is being done to ensure the country is prepared to meet those needs.

She notes that Jamaica, by virtue of its geographic location, is exposed to several natural hazards such as hurricanes, floods, and tropical storms.

Data from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) shows that of the 947 communities islandwide, approximately 31 per cent are classified as highly vulnerable. “This brings into sharp focus the need to address our vulnerability to natural hazards,” Mrs. Freckleton points out.

Raising awareness of the needs of vulnerable women and girls in emergencies is the focus of this year’s observation of World Population Day on Saturday, July 11 under the theme: ‘Vulnerable Populations in Emergencies’.

Disaster-risk reduction has been a top priority for the Government, and through support from non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and development partners, a number of initiatives are being undertaken to reduce the country’s vulnerability to natural hazards.

Mrs. Freckleton notes that within the Caribbean region Jamaica is considered as a model for best practice in disaster management, coordination and response. However, there are some areas of concern that the country is working to address.

These areas include access to shelters, providing relevant information to the disabled, as well as proper care, security and nourishment for children, adolescent girls and women who are pregnant, or nursing.

Regional Disaster Coordinator for the Northern Region at the ODPEM, Allison Gordon, says the agency is committed to taking proactive action to reduce the impact of disaster and emergencies on the vulnerable population.

In addition to training sessions, testing of emergency management plans and public education programmes, Mrs. Gordon says the ODPEM has been working with its partners to ensure that shelters are fully accessible to disabled persons.

“Our shelters are mainly at primarily schools and some of these schools were built years ago, and so we have to constantly retrofit and to ensure that as new structures are constructed, consideration is given to ensuring that they are accessible to persons in wheelchairs,” Mrs. Gordon says.

To date, the ODPEM has retrofitted the Naggo Head Primary School in Portmore, St. Catherine, to make it accessible to persons who are wheelchair bound and

Mrs. Gordon says more schools will be refurbished soon.

In addition, through partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a project titled ‘A school in a box’ has started to ensure that during emergencies education can continue while children are away from school.

“This is something that really needs to spread islandwide but we have started and we have made some progress in that,” she adds.

Mrs. Gordon says the care of pregnant women and adolescent girls is also a priority area being addressed by disaster management officials.

She notes that during emergencies, the Ministry of Health provides the Shelter Managers with information on persons, who are in an advanced stage of pregnancy, and they are placed in hospitals instead of the shelters.

Mrs. Gordon notes that part of the shelter management procedure requires that the Public Health Officers visit the facilities to identify persons, who may have additional medical needs.

Additionally, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)-funded Building Disaster Resilient Communities project,  ODPEM has been able to develop community disaster management plans that incorporate all stakeholders and to also test the plans to ensure that they work.

“We include the vulnerable population such as persons, who are wheelchair bound …and what we do is assign community persons to these individuals to assist them before it’s too late to get to the shelters. We engage them (disabled persons) to ensure that they are comfortable with these persons, who are assigned to them,” Mrs. Gordon informs.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which has been working with NGOs in Jamaica to support efforts to reduce vulnerability in times of emergencies, welcomes the year’s World Population Day focus.

Director of the UNFPA Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, Sheila Roseau, tells JIS News that across the world’s pregnant women, teenage girls and children are considered a major vulnerable group during and after emergencies.

“In emergencies, we are concerned about basic needs such as housing, shelter, etc….but the unique needs of women and girls are sometimes overlooked and this is where UNFPA has a very big role to play,” Mrs. Roseau says.

The vulnerability of women and girls, particularly their sexual reproductive health needs, is recognised in international conventions such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

The framework was adopted by UN Member States of which Jamaica is a member, on March 18, 2015 at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. It is the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, with seven targets and four priorities for action.

“It urges Governments to ensure the right to sexual reproductive health and the right to live free of sexual and other forms of violence apply to all people at all times, including the population affected by or recovering from emergencies,” Mrs. Roseau informs.

Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and menstruating women and girls, she insists, have special needs during emergencies, such as the need for nourishment and hygiene supplies.

“Even though we are clamouring to make sure the basic needs are met, these things still happen, people still get pregnant, people still have menstruation needs and nursing mothers still require support to continue nursing,” she points out, noting that studies show that cases of stillbirths increase during and after emergencies due to the lack of obstetrician care.

Children are considered vulnerable because of their susceptibility to injury and are at a greater risk of significant trauma than adults, while also easier to become malnourished and contract diseases.

Meanwhile, Ms. Freckleton wants the public to become more informed about the country’s vulnerability to hazards and their impact on the population.

Importantly, she says, this World Population Day and beyond, there will be an “emphasis on the role of the media in communicating the relevant messages and preparing the population and the vulnerable population, specifically about their role in reducing their risk in times of emergencies.”

The PIOJ, UNFPA and ODPEM, say they, will continue to work together along with other partners to identify the specific vulnerable groups and their particular needs and improve ways to reduce their vulnerability during emergencies.