Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Editorial | Managing community risk

Published:Saturday | October 8, 2016 | 10:00 AM

The residents of a Manchester community took last week's hurricane warnings seriously and assessed their risk. People in Mile Gully concluded that the greatest danger their community faced was enormous disruption and inconvenience to residents if several mature trees were uprooted by hurricane-force winds and blocked their roads. They decided to take a chainsaw to some of these trees.

It was a gut reaction based on past experience of wind impact that toppled trees. All predictions said Hurricane Matthew was a huge storm taking aim at Jamaica, and the people, aware of the damage that can result from uprooted trees blocking roads and perhaps hauling down power lines, came together and did what they thought was best. Should members of this former free village formed after Emancipation be commended or condemned?

Certainly, not everyone is applauding that community decision for taking down those trees. However well-intentioned, their action also wiped away many of the benefits provided by trees. The Forestry Department delivered a public rebuke to the citizens of Mile Gully for breaching the forestry regulations and warned that citizens cannot simply cut down trees in protected areas.

 

DEPARTMENT'S MANDATES

 

Several factors come into play when such a decision is to be made. The typical villager may not be in a position to make the proper assessment of wood density and flexibility, as well as crown density, tree age and trunk diameter. The department is charged with the preservation of our forests and the protection of forest-management areas and forest reserves. One of the department's mandates is to maintain the island's forest cover at not less than 30 per cent.

Currently, less than half of the island is covered by forest and woodlands. Additionally, various human activities, such as farming, residential construction and logging have created unacceptably high levels of soil erosion and degradation of our watershed.

Forests and trees protect us, and not enough Jamaicans appreciate this fact. How many people were even aware that yesterday was observed as National Tree-Planting Day? There was a time when trees were planted to celebrate special occasions, but not so anymore. Trees were supposedly distributed last month by the Forestry Department. Yet the day passed relatively unnoticed. And before that, International Day of Forests was commemorated in March under the theme 'Forests and Water'. That also did not create many ripples.

 

COMMON LACK OF INTEREST

 

We drew attention to these two events to demonstrate a common lack of interest in environmental matters. Everyone needs to understand that trees are vital to every aspect of our lives. A reduction in forest cover will gradually reduce rainfall, rivers will dry up, and whenever there is extreme weather system like a hurricane, land slippage and flooding are guaranteed.

The example of Haiti is a stark reminder of how soil erosion and deforestation can ravage a country and leave it vulnerable to disasters such as hurricanes. But it was not always like that, for up to 1940, about 30 per cent of Haiti was covered by forest. This dropped to 10 per cent by 1970, with current estimates now at between 1.4 and 2.0 per cent.

The United Nations estimates that deforestation accounts for as much as 20 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. It is a problem for Jamaica, and one that may get worse in the absence of coherent and committed leadership to combat the effects of climate change.

Let us resolve to start planting to keep Jamaica green for generations to come.