Gov’t agencies near agreement on Cockpit Country boundary
Following a series of recent meetings, government stakeholders - including the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change - are said to be closer to a boundary recommendation for the biodiversity-rich Cockpit Country.
The recommendation should form the basis of a final Cabinet decision, following years of agitation by civil society actors, who are keen to have the area - home to the Leeward Maroons and an abundance of flora and fauna endemic to the island - protected.
"We have made significant progress ... I believe we are nearing a decision which will allow the appropriate persons to make an announcement," said Colonel Oral Khan, chief technical director in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change.
Cabinet directed last year that the two key ministries in the matter - the environment ministry, together with the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining (MSTEM) - have further discussions on the issue, following a 2013 report on public consultations done on the boundary.
That report - co-authored by Dr Dale Webber of the University of the West Indies Centre for Environmental Management, and Dr Claudel Noel - advised government against the authorisation of mining within the boundary of the Cockpit Country.
"The Government of Jamaica should not authorise any form of exploration of mineral deposits, mining and quarrying activity within the Cockpit Country," reads a section of the 215-page report.
"The level of emotion is too high and the level of opposition and resistance by community members and leaders, community-based organisations, non-governmental and civil society organisations, some governmental agencies and members of the academic community may not provide enough guarantee and confidence for potential investors," the report added.
With the benefit of recommendations from that document, the environment ministry had made its own recommendations for a boundary, which appear to have been divergent from that of MSTEM's.
agencies agreed on boundary
MSTEM Junior Minister Julian Robinson as much as confirmed that this year when he revealed that government agencies were, in fact, not agreed on a boundary recommendation.
"The reason this process has taken so long is that, even within Government, it has not been easy coming to this consensus because it involves a give and take," he told The Gleaner last month.
It is this disagreement that has necessitated the round of meetings to reach an agreement among government players, including the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, the Water Resources Authority, in addition to MSTEM and the environment ministry, among others.
Further, the meetings have come on the heels of renewed opposition to mining in the Cockpit Country by local civil-society organisations working in the environment sector.
This, after the Windsor Research Centre earlier this year alerted the public to what appeared to be mining activities by Noranda Bauxite inside a section of the area they see as the Cockpit Country.
Civil society actors now welcome news of a decision on the boundary, albeit with caution.
"It is critical to identify a boundary and more so that the Government of Jamaica establish that boundary to reflect where they will no longer place under threat of mining or any destructive activity," said Hugh Dixon, head of the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency.
However, he said a boundary declaration was only the start of what is needed to effectively safeguard the area, which provides some 40 per cent of the Jamaica population with fresh water.
"That process would be preliminary to an effort that determines what would be the prudent management and protection to be put in place to ensure the sustained maintenance of the jurisdiction and its ecological characteristics," he told The Gleaner.
"That has to be concurrently supported by a public awareness programme that enables the population in and around the buffer zone of that area to become conversant with the conditions of engagement so that we have an informed population that is working in concert with the prescribed or understood boundaries and the significance of it and the need to maintain the area's integrity," Dixon added.