Lessons learnt from cancellation of Negril breakwaters
CIVIL SOCIETY'S capacity to influence Jamaica's vulnerability to climate change was recently brought sharply into focus, with the discontinuation of work under component one of the Jamaica Adaptation Fund project, from which stakeholders have derived some lessons.
"We need to look at how we bring scientific and engineering data into policy and ensure that all the parties understand fully all the evidence for all possible choices that are going to be made," said Dr David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Sustainable Solutions Network.
For more than two years, Negril hoteliers maintained their opposition to the installation of breakwaters as the answer to their eroding beaches, despite repeated attempts by the Planning Institute of Jamaica - acting as the national implementing entity (NIE) for the project - to quiet their fears.
They convened community meetings, hired an international consultant for advice, and wrote to the Adaptation Fund Board Secretariat before, ultimately, taking their complaint to the Office of the Public Defender (OPD).
The OPD came to a conclusion in their favour, noting, among other things, the need for improved public consultations. Cabinet thereafter gave the green light to the NIE to discontinue that component of the work.
"Many of the people in Negril were concerned about what they were going to do if the breakwaters were built and then didn't work. That is an important question, and the question is how does the designer of the breakwaters provide enough evidence to say that the chances of it not working is very low or at least lower than the chance of further erosion taking place," Smith said.
"So I think the big lesson is that we need to spend more time and effort figuring out how scientific evidence gets assimilated by stakeholders for questions like this - whether it be the management of a beach, the Cockpit County or any other natural resource. We need to ensure that all the stakeholders understand the implications of all the different options," he added.
Senior technical officer with responsibility for adaptation in the Climate Change Division,
Dr Orville Grey, said, "It has obviously brought to light the degree of consultation that needs to take place.
"Some may view it as a blemish on Jamaica to secure funding and implement, but, viewed in another light, it says that the consultation process is alive and well; and it is clear that at least a section of the public, their input has been taken on board in the final decision taken," he told The Gleaner.
"It should lend itself to better engagement at all levels within government and with projects of a similar magnitude. It is very difficult at this stage to implement any project without the public being fully engaged," Grey added.
Diana McCaulay, head of the Jamaica Environment Trust, said it testified to the power of concerted civil-society action.
"It says that if a community really decides they are going to take a stand and work together to get what they want, then it is possible. Those people never gave up and they put up with a lot of criticism for the stand they were taking. But they knew what they wanted and invested their own money to get the advice," she said.
Meanwhile, the jury remains out on what will become of the roughly US$5 million that was earmarked for the breakwaters under the close to US$10-million project dubbed 'Enhancing the Resilience of the Agriculture Sector and Coastal Areas to Protect Livelihoods and Improve Food Security'.
The project has two other components - one of them to enhance the climate resilience of the agricultural sector by improving water and land management (US$2,503,720), and the other to improve institutional and local-level capacity for coastal and agricultural adaptation and awareness-raising for behaviour modification (US$785,500).