Annotto Bay, Morant Point at risk of devastation by sea-level rise
Annotto Bay in St Mary and Morant Point in St Thomas, both in the eastern section of the island, are the Jamaican communities most at risk of devastation by sea-level rise, a situation researchers at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, have linked to the poor socioeconomic conditions that prevail.
The analysis carried out by the Mona GeoInformatics Institute included poverty-implication mapping, which shows an urgent need for major investments to ease pressure on water resources. It also points to a need for proper housing development and for attention to be given to other areas in the built and natural environments, as a matter of priority.
"Our research is showing that these are the poorest areas, and so the assumption is that they will be the areas that are least resilient," Dr Ava Maxam, deputy director of the Mona GeoInformatics Institute told The Gleaner.
The findings, which were culled from a culmination of a decade of research, show that in the event of natural disasters, those areas will take the longest to rebound.
Maxam further explained that Annotto Bay and Morant Point were among 20 communities across the island in critical need of attention, with Amity Hall and Yallahs, also in St Thomas, making that list. Runaway Bay in St Ann, Savanna-la-Mar in Westmoreland, as well as Cumberland and Caymanas Estates in St Catherine, also share that dubious distinction.
The general Caribbean is at risk, as scientists say the sea level has been rising, on average, at a rate of 0.14 inches (3-5 millimetres) per year since the 1990s.
But even a small rise in the sea level can have a devastating impact on coastal communities, since it can cause flooding of wetlands and farm lands and also contaminate aquifers or groundwater.
In addition, higher sea levels result in bigger, more powerful storm surges that can strip away everything in their path when they make landfall.
"When we looked at the water resources, areas such as Portmore (St Catherine), Kingston, Belvedere (Portland), Morant Point and Annotto Bay have the major aquifers as well as high densities of wells," Maxam disclosed.
"In terms of the environment, areas including Palisadoes (Kingston), Yallahs, and Morant Point, Hope Bay (St Andrew) and Annotto Bay possess some of the most critical environmental resources when it comes to wetlands, reefs, mangroves and other assets. As a result, a lot of work needs to be done in ensuring that with sea-level rise, measures are put in place to preserve these resources, in addition to building the capacity of resilience," she added.
Maxam also stressed the importance of taking seriously the multiplied threat from what are perceived to be low-intensity hurricanes, as a result of a rise in sea level.
"It is expected that hurricanes are going to be intensified by 11 per cent. So when we used to have Category Three or Category Four hurricanes, we are seeing that Category Five or higher hurricanes will be popular. It must be noted that it doesn't necessarily mean that we will be having more hurricanes, but the one that becomes a major hurricane will be very strong. Therefore, we have to be aware of the changes," she warned.