Reducing disaster risk will help economy - ODPEM

Published: Friday | August 14, 2009

Gareth Manning, Gleaner Writer

Ronald Jackson (second left), director general, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPEM), shares a joke with co-worker Pauline Brown, Alan Ross (left), of the United Nations Development Programme, and Eleanor Jones of Environmental Solutions, just before the start of ODPEM's one-day planning meeting on 'Strenghtening Partnerships for Disaster Risk Reduction' at the Planning Institute of Jamaica offices in New Kingston on Wednesday. - Ian Allen/Staff Photographer

The country is likely to retard its economic development if national decision making is not guided by a disaster risk reduction framework, a meeting of organisations involved in disaster risk management suggested on Wednesday.

The meeting, convened and led by the Office of Disaster Prepared-ness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) at the office of the Planning Institute of Jamaica in New Kingston on Wednesday high-lighted, among other issues, that there was still a low level of priority being given to disaster risk reduction, both within the private and public sector, although the threat of natural disasters had increased in recent years.

According to the experts, administrations were yet to make clear linkages between social and economic issues, such as poverty and disaster management, for instance, and therefore had not yet come to appreciate its importance as a part of the planning process.

Costly storms

Director of the Planning Institute of Jamaica's Sustainable (PIOJ) Development and Regional Planning Division, Claire Bernard, noted, for example, that since the advent of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, storms alone have cost the country J$99.25 billion.

" ... and since Ivan it's (storm damage) been about two or three per cent of the GDP (gross domestic product) and that clearly underestimates the impact because what we have is the value of the loss, we don't have the slowdown of the economy," she said.

The five storms between 2004 and 2008 racked up US$1.2 billion, which would currently be about J$90 billion.


But storms are not the only disasters the country faces yearly.

The group said droughts have also caused severe damage to the economy. However, their impact is usually not totally measured, leaving the real damage it does to the economy unknown.

"Government decision making needs to take that [disaster risk reduction] into consideration," Bernard said, pointing out that a plan was needed for each critical sector.

She said some adjustments were being made by the PIOJ to have disaster risk reduction and other environmental issues complement national development plans.

An example of this is the National Spatial Plan, which is aimed at advising the admin-istration as to what areas of the island were most suitable for particular kinds of development.

In spite of the efforts being made, Bernard maintained that there was a clear need for more incorporation of disaster risk reduction considerations within the activities and programmes of the government agencies.

Little analysis

"We think a big area in which an opportunity exists is to integrate disaster risk reduction in project development," Bernard said.

"We believe that sufficient trend analysis is not being done of the historical data that is available to us."

She said the fact that infra-structural development was being carried out in ecologically sensitive areas means usually very little site analysis was done.

"The whole issue of disaster management has been sidelined," she commented.

"Unless you work in the sector they don't pay too much attention to it."