Speech

It is unprecedented for any Prime Minister to be addressing this House in the aftermath of a hurricane as early as July. Hurricane Dennis has arrived two months early. The adage “June too soon, July goes by”, clearly no longer applies. Both the timing and the severity of the Hurricane would suggest that we are in for an active season as was predicted. It is predicted that we will have between 12-15 tropical storms of which 7-9 will become hurricanes and 3-5 major hurricanes. The average season has 10 tropical storms, with 6 becoming hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. The degradation of the global environment has created ecological imbalance and this has serious implications for especially small developing states such as Jamaica.
Even as we recover, let me place on the record of the House, our sympathy for and solidarity with the Government and people of Haiti and Cuba and the residents of Florida who also experienced the destructive forces of the Hurricane.
I must also place on the record our sincere thanks to the Governments of Cuba and Venezuela who have responded with tangible help within hours after the passage of the Hurricane. The centre of Hurricane Dennis, a Category 2 hurricane, made its closest approach 50km east of Morant Point and 60 km northeast of Port Antonio on July 7, 2005. I witnessed flood heights of over thirty feet in Berrydale where I visited on Sunday.
Mr. Speaker, outer bands of showers and heavy thunderstorms were first detected during the morning of July 6 spreading from east to west across the island. The Hurricane produced significant rainfall across sections of the island through July 8 and into July 9, 2005.
Preliminary Rainfall data show that we experienced up to 497.6 millimetres of rainfall in Mavis Bank which is 1005% above the July mean of 62 millimetres.
Mr. Speaker, Ivan was a Category 4 Hurricane but it had rainfall of comparable levels (in terms of one day totals) with Dennis. It is worth reminding the House that Ivan was a slower moving Hurricane.
As in the case of Ivan, Jamaica has again been spared a direct hit but damage, though not as widespread as Ivan, has been nonetheless considerable. There is hardly any place that has not been affected but the Eastern parishes of Portland, St. Thomas, portions of St. Mary as well as parts of rural St. Andrew, Clarendon and St. Ann have been badly devastated.
So far, there has been one confirmed hurricane related death of a 35 year-old male. I would like, on behalf of this House, to express condolence to his family, friends and community. The Government, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security will assist the family with funeral expenses.
I think that I need to remind this House that the country, like Florida, is still recovering from Hurricane Ivan. The more disasters that we face, the more vulnerable will be our infrastructure and our environment. Not only are we having more disasters, but we are also having them in rapid succession-hurricanes, storms, earthquakes and drought.
The past eleven months have seen us absorbing the impact of several natural hazards. 2004 began with a drought which had severe consequences for the South Central and South West parishes and required trucking of water to most parishes.
Coupled with the drought, there were several bush fires (over 700) that caused further damage, loss of livestock and crops as well as houses. With the ground denuded by drought and fires, Charley passed to our South in August, severely damaged whatever crops were left. You may recall the severe flooding and removal of top-soil particularly in St. Elizabeth.
Charley was followed by Ivan in September.
These impacts are important because they speak to cumulative vulnerability caused by our inability to recover from one disaster before the next arrives. The weakened systems and affected population are actually more vulnerable to each event because of the damage whether physical or psychological incurred by the last event.
This state of affairs may well become the norm for the future. This means that resilient infrastructure and systems, an informed and prepared population which accepts its responsibility in reducing the impact of disasters will become more and more critical.
The damage from these disasters has been tremendous. The cost of drought was $323m and Charley $250m both of them not including indirect costs. We know that Ivan was close to $25b.
With respect to Hurricane Dennis, the assessment of the damage is yet to be completed, the costs of relief, repair and restoration cannot yet be determined.
In light of this, Cabinet at its meeting yesterday authorized that each Ministry and Agency should proceed to undertake the emergency work that is required with the funds presently available.
The Ministry of Finance will commence before the end of this week, a meeting of the relevant Ministries so that a Submission is ready for the consideration of Cabinet next week and the requisite expenditures duly authorized for such variations as will become necessary when the first Supplementary Estimates are presented to Parliament.
The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) is coordinating the process of estimating the full cost of the impact. We expect a final comprehensive report by the end of the month.
In this presentation, I will provide details of:
The more substantial damage caused by the HurricaneThe Government’s response to the disasterThe strategic and long-term management of disaster
The Cabinet Office has compiled a situation report and Appendices with inputs from ODPEM and other agencies which I am tabling with this statement and they provide more specific details on the damage and the response mechanism.
Substantial Damage
Early indications are that flooding and landslides have affected about 119 populated areas.
Agriculture
We estimate having lost about 40% of the banana industry in the parishes of Portland, St. Thomas and parts of St. Mary that were severely affected. Coffee sustained considerable damage mainly from fallen trees and landslides. There are no major problems with yam and vegetables. Fortunately, the bread-basket areas which provide much of our domestic food supply were not adversely affected. The country’s domestic food supply is not likely to be adversely affected.
Roads
The main damage has been to our road infrastructure because of the extent to which many rivers overflowed their banks. I saw three rivers joined together in St. Thomas. Eighty-three roads were blocked, forty-two (41) by debris and forty-one (41) by inundation. Some of the severely affected areas including Trinityville, Cedar Valley, Penlyne Castle, Westphalia, Cascade, and portions of East Rural St. Andrew were totally cut-off.
Water
The National Water Commission shut down some water supply systems just prior to the Hurricane as a protective measure. Other systems continued throughout the rains associated with the Hurricane until they were forced out of operation due to worsening conditions. There were some systems that continued to operate throughout the Hurricane.
One hundred and thirty-seven (137) of the four hundred and sixty (460) water supply systems operated by the NWC were put out of operation due to the Hurricane. Seventy-nine (79) remain out of operation. Only one, Yallahs, of sixty-eight (68) wastewater systems, remains out of operation or seriously compromised.
Power supply
Just over 100,000 customers lost electricity during the Hurricane. Shelters
Eighty-two shelters were opened with three thousand two hundred and twenty-one persons up to July 8, 2005.
Government’s response
On Tuesday July 5, 2005, when it became clear that Hurricane Dennis was heading for Jamaica, the Senior Cabinet Minister who was in charge of the Government in my absence, Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, called a meeting of the National Disaster Committee. The meeting was held on Wednesday with relevant sector ministries and technical agencies that are critical to our disaster preparedness and management.
There was level 2 activation of the National Emergency Operations Centre.
Mr. Speaker, Dennis was a rapidly developing storm but the national response mechanism was fully activated and ready within 36 hours.
We closed our two main airports but they were re-opened on Friday
Mr. Speaker, I wish to commend my Cabinet team and the various ministries and agencies, including the Local Government Authorities, for the prompt and efficient way in which they prepared for and responded to the disaster.
The ODPEM has gained worldwide recognition for its preparation for and management of disaster response. Its efficiency is renown throughout the Region and beyond. In fact, tomorrow, the Executive Director, Dr. Barbara Carby has been invited to make a presentation on post disaster recovery to the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) in New York.
Given that we are still in the early stage of the Hurricane season and the expectations that we will experience an active one, the Government intends to utilize local resources to respond to this disaster.
It is clear to us that a dedicated fund is required for mitigation and disaster response.
Relief supplies
Emergency relief supplies were pre-positioned to serve the parishes of St. Mary, Manchester, Portland and Clarendon. This allowed supplies to reach persons who were in need in as quickly as possible.
The ODPEM through the JDF airlifted food supplies to communities that were cut-off including Halls Delight, Content Gap, Westphalia, Cascade, Penlyne Castle, Hagley Gap, Cedar Valley and Trinityville. We will have to continue airlifts for this week or certainly until the roads have been cleared.
Relief supplies such as bedding, blankets and bleach were also dispatched to the parishes of St. Thomas and Portland.
Detailed welfare assessments started on Monday July 11, 2005.
The shelter population now stands at 147 which is about a 95% reduction since last Friday.
Utilities
The National Water Commission is working assiduously to return normality to all of their systems. Only about 8% or 30,000 of NWC customers are without water. The Seaview Water Treatment Plant in St. Andrew will require extensive work and pipes and construction equipment will have to be airlifted. The communities of Stony Hill, Golden Spring and sections of Jacks Hill and environs may not have normal supply of water for about two weeks.
Mr. Speaker the Rapid Response Unit pre-loaded fifty-four (54) trucks with water and fuel in designated bedding areas in the various regions to respond to the needs of the Jamaican people. Trucking is taking place in St. Mary, Portland, Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Thomas, Manchester and Trelawny.
I ask the Jamaican people to pay keen attention to and obey the instructions of the Ministry of Health on the treatment of water.
During the event about 100,000 customers lost electricity. About 6,000 customers are still without electricity in St. Thomas, Portland, St. Mary and St. Andrew. Roads
As I have indicated earlier, our roads have taken a battering.
I have instructed the National Works Agency to proceed with emergency work to clear roads and return access to communities that have been cut off. Cabinet gave approval for emergency work of up to $4m to be undertaken. Awards of contract up to $15m will have to be referred to the Permanent Secretary who is required to inform the NCC within 7 days of the details of the contract. The main roads have been opened except for the Bog Walk Gorge and the south coast road via Yallahs.
The Rio Grande River and Bridge will be getting immediate attention. Our engineers are to have urgent dialogue with the Jamaica Association of Engineers on a solution to the Railway Bridge. Indications are that a decking will be built on the existing structure and that this will take two weeks.
Public Health
The Ministry of Health is engaged in health education, vector control, water quality monitoring, food safety control, environmental sanitation, epidemiological surveillance and other activities to secure public health and prevent and control disease outbreaks. Vector control has started in all parishes focusing on source reduction and larvicidal activities.
All health centers, except those in remote areas have re-opened. All hospitals, except the Falmouth Hospital have re-opened. The Falmouth Hospital will re-open tomorrow.
All of our wards of the state are safe and well and Places of Safety and Homes remain in good condition. Water is being supplied to Best Care Lodge and the Strathmore Place of Safety.
Strategic and Long Term Management of vulnerable economies
Mister Speaker,
Disaster preparedness and management and the need for hazard Mitigation policies and programmes are two distinct set of activities but are clearly inter-related. Jamaica’s Hazard Mitigation Policy has been prepared with the assistance of the Caribbean Development Bank and CEDERA. It is presently being reviewed and will shortly be sent to the Cabinet and thereafter to the House.
We have already taken action and made many decisions about better management of our physical resources and the environment. These strategic interventions are critical to our ability to reduce the losses that are inevitable from some of the disasters to which we are prone.
Today, it is important to mention some of the activities that we have undertaken or are proposing to undertake.
The National Integrated Watershed Management established by me in 2000 has been working since then to coordinate activities in our Watersheds. This joined-up government approach working closely with the private sector, NGOs and CBOs together with the Donor and lender community has resulted in several successful initiatives in watershed improvements and management.
A detailed report will be presented on their work shortly.
This will include data on reforestation efforts by government and the private sector and invaluable efforts and accomplishments of NGOs and community groups in our watersheds.
An additional report on the recently concluded US/AID, GOJ funded Ridge to Reef Programme identifying its many successes will also be tabled.
There have been several improvements in the farming practices of many of our farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture through RADA and a number of Programmes continue to educate and train our farmers. This work must continue.
The Mining and Quarrying Sector has been under serious review over the past few years. There have been amendments to laws and increases to fines and penalties for breaches of the laws. Enforcement has been improved with a fuller involvement of the Island Special Constabulary Force.
In the light of problems with a number of rivers I have ordered a review of all mining licences and the mining practices of all parties involved to ensure that these activities are not adding to our slate of disasters.
The Ministry of Transport and Works and The National Works Agency have been instructed to begin to put in place with other relevant agencies a Drainage Policy and Plan for the island. In addition they are also required to begin to develop a programme for River Training on a priority basis.
There are several initiatives being made with environmental management and the preparation of Development plans and orders.
Mr. Speaker,
The Government has been receiving the assistance of the Jamaican Institute of Engineers with the preparation of a National Building Code and Legislation for Jamaica. We are very grateful for their valuable assistance and look forward to the completing of this work.
Large numbers of our houses are un-engineered structures. Putting into effect this law and code together with special provisions for persons who build small homes will go a far way to improve our building stock.
In the meantime, I implore the KSAC, the Parish Councils and the Portmore Municipality to be more vigilant in enforcing their planning and building laws.
These are but a few of the inititiaves being taken in the medium and long term. These actions and measures are of critical importance if we are to make a difference. In addition to the above, the education and involvement of the public in all that we do is of vital importance if we are to succeed.
We must all recognise that national problems can only be solved with the involvement and full participation of the nation.
We have to stop denuding our hillsides and cutting down trees. If we continue we will remove all of our hillsides and whole communities.
Mr. Speaker, the Government understands that nothing short of a strategic approach to disaster management will help us to minimize the damage caused by disasters and speed up the recovery process. It is clear that the different elements of sustainable development must be focused and coordinated into a concentrated project that would
Review permits relating to mining and other activities that are contributing to flooding and other disasters;
Identify “extremely vulnerable” areas and the articulation of development policies and disaster management programmes for these areas.
We have given careful attention to declaring disaster areas. It is clear that there are a number of areas that are extremely vulnerable and the necessary mitigation and response programmes are put in place in respect of these areas.
But our assessment does not suggest that there will be any need to recourse to activities which require the use of the extraordinary powers that can only be exercised by the declaration of “disaster areas” in accordance with the Disaster Preparedness and Management Act.
As we stated, however, at the time of Hurricane Ivan we will need to develop an evacuation policy that will speak to forced removal of persons from selected areas where disasters are threatened.
The Ministry of Agriculture must examine the options for wide scale use of relevant and appropriate technology as a routine part of our farming technique. Mr. Speaker, between 150,000-160,000 of the islands 180,000 farm lots are below 2 hectares. This increases our vulnerability as most of our farmers are utilizing old techniques that do not protect them from the vagaries of natural disasters.
RADA continues to train across the country but some of our farmers resort to bad farming practices even after the training. We in this House tend to fall prey to arguments that suggest every failure in the country must be attributed to Government. We must lead and guide the Jamaican people to take some personal responsibility for their own protection and well-being.
Mr. Speaker, we learnt some lessons from our experience last year with Hurricane Ivan. On Friday, the Ministers of Agriculture and Commerce will meet with the distributive trade to discuss the county’s food supply for the remainder of the Hurricane Season. We presently have adequate food supplies in the country. The distributive trade is advising that we ought not to see any increases in the price foods and we want to ensure that this holds for the remainder of the Season.
We are increasing the number of persons involved in the distribution of kerosene because we will not tolerate any unjustifiable price rises in the product.
Mr. Speaker, We in this Parliament cannot guarantee successful disaster preparedness and management on our own, no matter what laws we enact. Our people must understand that they too have a critical role to play.
We can minimize a lot of damage if we change our farming practices, move from vulnerable areas when we are so advised and dispose of our garbage properly.
Every year, we argue about cleaning gullies and drains. We need to place more emphasis on preventing our gullies and drains from becoming choked with garbage and debris, a considerable amount of which is dumped there by people who should know better.
Those in the commercial trade also have a role to play. They must conduct their business with conscience and respect for best environmental practices and safety standards.
Conclusion
Mr. Speaker, even as we speak Emily is moving closer and gaining in intensity. This is no time for partisan bickering and grand standing.
Let us hit the road and speak with one voice in helping the Jamaican people to understand how we can fully prepare in order to cope better with disaster.
I expect that the Members and our Councillors will work side by side with our people, helping them to make good decisions.
There is a lot of work to be done. Let us do it in a united manner and with a combination of all the resources at our disposal.
May God hear our prayers and spare us but whatever happens may we demonstrate to the world that we are a great people who can overcome any adversity with courage and dignity.