A recently published study on the environment has found that over the last three years, there has been an increased focus on improving environmental management in Jamaica.
The report suggests that this has been achieved through activities such as creating new standards, policies and regulations (and enforcing existing ones); increased environmental monitoring; and raising greater awareness among citizens and stakeholders.
The State of the Environment Report (SoE) 2010, which was launched in collaboration with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is the first such report published in Jamaica since 2001.
It posits that between 2008 and 2010, the overall status of Jamaica’s ecosystems and natural resources has remained fairly constant.
The report further highlights that during that time, key elements of biodiversity – species and ecosystems, including watersheds, forests, coral reefs and other marine areas – have remained at the same state in general.
The amount of protected land and marine areas has remained the same, 18 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively for the last three years, although there were new fish sanctuaries declared in 2009 and 2010, the report says.
There have also been changes in management activities; for example, the number of prosecutions under the Wild Life Protection Act has increased, moving from three in 2008 to eight in 2009 and 10 prosecutions in 2010. In fact, the study highlights that the number of enforcement actions increased in all areas.
The quality of air, coastal and riverine water quality remained relatively constant at 75 per cent over the assessed timeframe. The study, however, highlights an apparent increase in the percentage of river sites meeting nutrient standards to 72 per cent in 2010, a 13 per cent increase over the 59 per cent in 2009.
There were also reductions in the amount of solid waste generated from residential sources, from 845,896 tonnes in 2008, to 821,903 tonnes in 2009, and 762,623 tonnes in 2010. The country also exported 4,000 metric tonnes of hazardous waste in 2010, a decline from the 5,000 metric tonnes that was exported in 2009 and 8,000 metric tonnes in 2008.
The report suggests that this reduction could be attributed to increased focus on waste reduction efforts.
Turning to energy, the study shows that the portion of Jamaica’s energy mix that comes from renewable energy almost doubled from five per cent in 2008 to nine per cent in 2010, noting that this increase demonstrates a stronger focus on reducing the country’s use of imported petroleum and on developing alternative energy.
Acting Director, Planning, Policy, Evaluation and Research, NEPA, Anthony McKenzie, says the SoE is expected to be used as a tool to gauge the country’s progress with respect to sustainable management of the country’s natural and physical environment in support of achieving Goal III as set out in Vision 2030 – “Jamaica as a healthy and natural environment.”
He tells JIS News that while there were many positives, the report also highlights a number of troubling trends that need urgent attention, including the state of the country’s watersheds, coastal resources, and water quality.
In terms of Jamaica’s watersheds, the report identifies some key pressure areas, such as poor agricultural practices, improper land usage (squatting), disposal of solid waste, the issue of illegal logging and the impact of storm events.
“There are 26 watershed units in Jamaica; however the reality now is that there are four of these units which are considered severely degraded,” he says. These include the Rio Minho in Clarendon, Wag Water in St. Mary, Yallahs River in St. Thomas and Hope River in St. Andrew.
The report also names five other systems which are considered degraded – the Rio Cobre, Morant River, Rio Grande, Swift River and the Pencar-Buff Bay River. The remaining watersheds are said to be experiencing a relatively lower level of degradation and are either considered less degraded or least degraded.
The report contends that watershed health may have been attributed to various land use activities continuously driven by the socio-economic pressures of communities.
Jamaica has various plans, programmes and policies in place to maintain and protect the country’s forests and watersheds, the report informs. “Jamaica is signatory to the major international environmental agreements that address forest and watershed issues,” it states.
The Forestry Department has also been implementing a range of actions geared toward sustainable forestry. These include ongoing forest inventory to generate information/data; four draft Local Forest Management Plans developed, using inventory information; the provision of a tax incentive; and increased vigilance to reduce forest loss and infringements.
In regard to Jamaica’s coastal resources, the study shows that the beaches on the South-west to West coast are suffering and are showing mild to chronic levels of beach erosion, with Negril being a major example. “The beaches on the east and North-east coast are relatively stable,” he informs.
The study asserts that in addition to sea level rise and the impact of storms, anthropogenic activities, such as coastal development and direct human uses, mainly associated with recreation, are putting the country’s beaches under increasing pressure.
In addition, Mr. McKenzie notes that the country’s riverine water quality also shows cause for concern. “On average, 41 per cent of the water quality sites show a decrease in water quality for the period 2007 to 2010, when compared to the period 2003 to 2006,” he informs.
In response to the report, Minister of Housing, Environment, Water and Local Government, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, says although Jamaica has made substantial improvements in environmental management, many challenges still remain, which must be addressed, particularly as the country strives to achieve continued economic growth.
He asserts that among the country’s main challenges is the need to adjust to the impacts of climate change and to carry out “no regrets mitigation actions to reduce our emission of green house gases.”
Dr. Chang further notes that among the priority areas for the government is to build the country’s awareness and capacity to manage chemicals and waste in a sound manner.
“Much work is still needed in educating Jamaicans on the risks associated with chemicals, particularly hazardous chemicals and safety precautions to be taken to reduce their level of exposure,” he states.
He tells JIS News that there is also an urgent need to obtain further information on chemicals, such as mercury and asbestos, within the Jamaican context, in order to formulate the appropriate environmental and public health policies and programmes to minimise the public’s risk of exposure.
Dr. Chang also informs that the fastest growing waste treatment was electrical and electronic, noting that this was undoubtedly associated with the age of information.
In this regard, he says the government intends to develop and implement, in the near future, a national programme for environmentally sound management of electrical and electronic waste.
“To support this programme, a public education awareness campaign will be introduced, which will facilitate the dissemination of information or e-waste. Also, importers will be encouraged to supply environmentally friendly electrical products for the local market,” he says.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO), NEPA, Peter Knight, says that while he is pleased with some aspects of the report, particularly as it relates to environmental management, he is not satisfied with a number of the current trends.
“Although we have made substantial improvements in environmental management, this report shows that many challenges still remain and need to be addressed,” he tells JIS News.
He points out that much of the data presented in the study show that there still exists many worrying trends. Among these are deteriorating air and water quality, poor management of solid, liquid and hazardous waste, loss of biodiversity, watershed degradation, and net loss of forest cover.
“It is true that in 2010, Jamaica’s ranking in terms of environmental performance, as measured by the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), dropped by 20 points, placing the country at 89 out of 163 countries, indicating that the country’s environmental performance has fallen,” he says.
Jamaica ranked 54 of 149 countries and was the best in terms of environmental performance in the English speaking Caribbean. In 2010, the country ranked 22 in the Americas. This drop reflects the need for more focused attention, as well as targeted development and implementation of programmes in areas such as ecosystem and biodiversity management.
There is also a clear need to strengthen existing legislation and pass new ones to address current and emerging environmental issues and challenges.
Mr. Knight says the SoE serves as a positive step towards improving Jamaica’s environmental performance, noting that the study is the first in a series of reports that NEPA will present to the public every three years to ensure that the programmes and projects being implemented are contributing to improvements in the state of the natural environment.
He says the report will also help stakeholders to evaluate Jamaica’s progress against Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number seven – to ensure environmental sustainability.
Improving the state of the Jamaican environment requires collaborative arrangement and partnership of the State and civil society. The many complexities and unique features of the Jamaican environment require a focus on strategies that can be utilised to ensure that the country’s development objectives are compatible with the natural environment and in keeping with the tenets of sustainable development, Mr. Knight says.
By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter