Growth & Jobs | Disaster preparedness now more urgent
Jamaica enters the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season on June 1 without the will to tackle the weaknesses that a major hurricane strike would show up or any indication that it has learnt from lessons from the recent past, says Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee, director of the Mona GeoInformatics Institute.
The country suffered massive flood damage in April and May, costing billions of dollars, dislocating budget spending plans, and undermining national economic growth targets, according to analysts. However, Lyew-Ayee pointed out that Jamaica has suffered similar flood damage in the past without remedial action being taken, although the necessary steps are well known.
"The 2017 Hurricane Season is projected by meteorologists to be above average this season, with one storm already forming in April," he said. "Climate change means that we can also expect more extreme weather events in the years ahead.
"Consequently, our first priority is to implement the recommendations made from past studies," Lyew-Ayee said. Recommendations were made from the floods reports this year, those in September and November of 2016, and following the Nicole rains in 2010, among others.
Lyew Ayee said that he was pleased to hear Prime Minister Andrew Holness promising that the Government would be more proactive in ensuring that people do not settle in areas that are likely to experience weather-related difficulties and that he would adopt procedures to implement a master drainage plan for the country.
At the same time, Lyew-Ayee pointed out that while similar commitments have been made by previous heads of government, these issues need to be addressed as one in five Jamaicans live in informal communities.
He also argued that engineers organising roadwork and drain works "need to be given the freedom to use the best possible resources and not have to depend on patronage or the recommendations of non-engineers. Likewise, we should allow the proper resourcing of the engineers so that they can do their job properly and effectively".
"There is a critical role for us as individual persons to take responsibility to prevent these recurrences," Lyew Ayee added. "Garbage disposal and construction practices are inherently individually driven, and people should not have to be told what to do and have Government deal with the problem later."
Taxpayers providing insurance for disaster victims
"Climate change also means that Jamaicans need to be more proactive in insuring against climate-related natural disasters," stated Chris Hind, general manager of JN General Insurance Company.
"A major part of the population has no effective insurance coverage in the event of natural disasters," Hind said. He revealed that a significant element in property insurance is related to mortgage loans, and once the loan is paid, the mortgagor fails to see the value of maintaining insurance coverage.
Without the buffer of an insurer to take on the cost of potential loss, persons and organisations have the ultimate responsibility for their loss. Hind affirmed that "effectively, it is the taxpayers of Jamaica who are providing insurance for many of those affected by such disasters".
Another source of support for some in such disasters consists of international agencies, friends, and relatives overseas who are willing to be of assistance. And, over the years, selected international agencies and Jamaicans in the diaspora have responded positively to the aftermath of hurricane destruction by individually assisting relatives, friends, and social institutions.
Lyew Ayee said that all resources and groups need to be engaged as "in the 'new normal' of increased frequency of climatic disasters, the old response of doing nothing to address the challenges prior to disasters will not serve us well".